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I apologize for the blue box above. It is being discussed here.

 

California is considering restricting the days of the week on which lawns may be watered. What is the upside that could make up for the obvious downsides of water waste and lost revenues?

I am well aware of the various misconceptions about the value of different potential water uses. For example I have heard that watering lawns will not leave enough for human consumption or valuable farming. But wouldn't the people making water policies have a better understanding of the potential value of water?

Obviously there is plenty of water for human consumption -- nobody cares if their drinking water is 0.2 cents or 2 cents per gallon (the current range of retail water prices). The value of this water for human consumption is much higher than that, it's a tiny fraction of the water supply by volume, and the state essentially buys basic water (including washing water too) for everyone for free anyway. This is just standard in the developed world.

As for farming, sure, by tearing up a lawn you might attract a farmer to the state to plant 2 acres of rice (both the lawn and the rice in this example use 1AF/yr of water). But then you've lost a family of professionals grossing $200K/yr and gained about 250kg/yr of rice grossing $1K/yr. Now, maybe half of such families wouldn't mind a rock-and-cactus garden instead of a lawn. So you've lost only $100K/yr.

Ironically, these lost revenues would actually make basic water more expensive. In much the same way as flying Economy would be much more expensive if First Class were banned.

In an idealized unregulated market, the wasteful usage just wouldn't stand a chance against a usage that is 100 times more valuable to the economy. Indeed, Los Angeles retail pricing proves that urban customers are willing to pay many times the gross output of the rice farm. Which shouldn't be surprising, because they also spend thousands of dollars on gardening services towards the same valuable ends of urban beautification.

However, given that lawns are already taxed and shamed (to make people feel good about their rock-and-cactus gardens), wouldn't the addition of restrictions risk the expansion of uneconomic water use -- the very waste that nobody wants? I realize that the restrictions aren't enforced yet, but I'm curious about what good could possibly come of them.

Thank you for answering this question via discussion comments. Unfortunately the question is now closed. To save readers the trouble of sifting through the comments for an answer, I have written the following summary of the reasonable points made in the comments.

In California politics, very little attention is paid to the value that lawns bring, or to the fact that dry agricultural goods can be imported. Never mind that banning lawns will reduce water revenues and make it harder to subsidize basic water (including consumption and washing water). Lawns are viewed as unnecessary luxury items and the water could be used to grow food instead. We do not look at the actual economics. To California's credit, the lawn ban is merely under discussion and not implemented yet. But as a practical matter, having irrigation restrictions announced gives recourse to people who want to conserve but are told not to by their HOAs. Often merely announcing a policy proposal can have beneficial effects like this.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JJJ
    Sep 3 at 4:26

1 Answer 1

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Oh, I dunno, maybe the intent is to save water? What water you say?:

Lawns, which have been especially singled out as water wasting culprits, are estimated to use about 40% to 60% of landscape irrigation in California, or just 3.5% to 5% of total statewide water use. Overall, landscape irrigation is estimated to account for about 50% of annual residential water consumption statewide. That amount varies widely from about 30% in many coastal communities to 60% or more in various inland suburban communities.

Given the drought California and the West is in, it seems reasonable to switch over to less thirsty gardens whenever possible. And to save water in the meantime by limiting watering.

No, not particularly defending growing thirsty crops like rice - which can be imported - either. It's not either or: turn both off, longer term. Water doesn't care for politics or fine legal analysis: it's either there in sufficient quantities. Or not.

nobody cares if their drinking water is 0.2 cents or 2 cents per gallon.

Average daily usage in the US is 300gallons/day, so I doubt $180/month is "nobody cares" territory, especially for poorer households who still need to shower and flush the loo.

And another way to think of water usage, per crop, at a national total level (I'll look for a per-acre data if I can find it).

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  • So the goal is to have "enough water". Enough water for what? The most valuable possible uses? But lawns are in the top 50th percentile in terms of value. Based (for example) on the simple math that they generate more value per AF than agriculture (400B+ for lawns, versus 20B for agriculture). Sep 1 at 20:35
  • @personal_cloud for drinking and cooking and bathing at the very least, presumably. And if other uses use up the water, there will not be enough for normal use either.
    – Esther
    Sep 1 at 20:44
  • @Italian Obviously 300 gallons/day includes showers as well, and yes, in that case, people care about the price. But the pricing is tiered such that everyone gets basic water. If you want a lawn, you pay the higher tier, which both subsidizes the basic water and increases the water supply in the future. So the tiered pricing system seems to solve the problem, and only hurts the most egregious wasters (rice farmers). Sep 1 at 20:44
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    Your question is about what the point was. You seem to know the answer already, but disagree with the policy so I suggest you, and others who agree with you, vote those horrible water managers out at the very next election. Sep 1 at 20:59
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    hey esther, you already have a zillion comments on the OP's Q. No need to make yourself at home here too, is there? Sep 1 at 21:04

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