Artificial turf use growing with the drought

Hollister homeowner Noel Provost stands in his yard Tuesday afternoon as work to convert his yard from grass to turf is under way. Provost is one of many people replacing their lawns to help save water. Photos by Nick Lovejoy

The long rolls of turf to the left of this house are about to become the green lawn of Hollister resident Kathy Provost’s dreams. But the grass is not the kind Provost thought she would cultivate on the family’s country property.
This grass is artificial.
Kathy and her husband Noel have spent about $71,000 to install synthetic turf, decomposed granite and pavers in an area that was once about 3,000 square feet of lawn in the front and back yards. They switched out their grass because of the state’s new water restrictions.
“We came to the conclusion that we were not going to water our lawn this year,” he said to the Free Lance.
While the Provosts worked with Union City-based System Pavers to fix their backyard, the Hollister-based artificial turf company Opa Farms also has experienced an increase in demand for lawn substitutes.
“We’re doing a lot of it, obviously, because of the drought right now but yeah, we’re getting slammed,” said Kevin Moore, the director of operations at Opa.
The garden center, nursery and artificial turf business opened about a year ago but the demand for grass alternatives has picked up dramatically following the new statewide water restrictions. In April, Gov. Jerry Brown created an executive order requiring municipalities to reduce water consumption by 25 percent from 2013 levels. The demand for artificial grass at Opa Farms changed from about two to five installation jobs a month to six to 10.
Lawns can be quite the water appreciators, especially in San Benito County’s mediterranean climate. In Hollister during a good year, the area gets 11 to 12 inches of rain a year, but a lawn needs 64 inches of water to stay green, explained a local water expert.
The Provosts’ lawn swallowed 1,000 to 1,500 gallons of water each week, the couple said.
Shawn Novack of the Water Resources Association of San Benito County is a proponent of fewer lawns and his agency started the “Turf Removal Program” in July. Since then, about 70 people have received money for replacing an estimated 40,000 square feet of grass but not everyone getting rid of a lawn qualifies for the program.
Noel Provost was upset to learn his lawn didn’t qualify even though he lives in Hollister. That’s because artificial turf is not on the approved list of grass substitutes.
“We don’t like to promote artificial turf,” said Novack, the program manager of the association. “It’s fine if people want to use it but artificial turf has a life of about 25 years and then it has to be pulled up and put in a landfill.”
The turf can also create extra heat by reflecting warmth back at a house and the fake grass doesn’t provide habitat for good garden critters including ladybugs, worms and bees, Novack said.
Participants get $1 per square foot of turf removed up to $500, but the project must be approved before the lawn is removed, Novack said.
Locals participating in the program must replace the grass with drought-tolerant plants, California natives or a permeable surface that allows rainwater to enter the ground, such as wood chips or gravel, the water expert explained.
While saving 1,000 to 1,500 gallons of water per week would be a lot for any county resident, it means even more to Noel Provost. He lives in a Heatherwood Estates home, and that development, plus the neighboring Foxhill Circle, hold 48 houses that share two wells and self impose water restrictions to make sure they don’t run out of the precious resource.
The property owners were allowed to use up to 1,000 gallons of water per day at one point but as of June 1, they’ll be allotted just 666 gallons per day as the community responds to the demands of the drought.
Many of the Provosts’ neighbors have let their lawns go dry, though a few keep small patches in front of the house as a reminder of greener days. The neighbors’ pond once visible from the Provosts’ backyard is just a spot of weeds, yet another reminder of the dry year.
But Kathy Provost will finally get the green lawn she always dreamed of but could never retain in the country.
“I’ve been wanting lawn forever,” she said. “I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I was ready to take it out but I wanted green.”

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