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Where the (Fake) Grass Is Greener Still

A pilot program in Anaheim is testing the water savings of synthetic lawns. Five homeowners get to put away the mower.

February 03, 2004|Kimi Yoshino | Times Staff Writer

Welcome to suburbia -- at least Orange County's version of it -- where the grass is lush and green and, well, fake.

Anaheim, along with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, is test-driving synthetic lawns as a way to conserve water.

If it works, residents who install the faux grass may soon be eligible to receive rebates, similar to those offered for low-flow toilets and water-efficient washing machines.

"Oh my God, it's soft, beautiful," said Mary Adams, who lives in one of five Anaheim homes that received the artificial turf as part of a pilot program. "We've had so many people just stop and feel it. Even the street cleaners and the trash people. It is an eye-catcher."

The fake-lawn phenomenon is already used on sports fields and in drought-plagued regions such as Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. In Las Vegas, for example, only half of the frontyard space on new homes can be organic grass.

To win over those rooted to the real thing, AstroLawn, SYNLawn and other manufacturers are hyping the low maintenance of their products and urging people to take back their weekends.

"We're talking no more mowing, watering, fertilizing, weeding or resodding," AstroLawn's website promises.

"Roll around on your soft, supple, virtual lawn with your kids with no worry of dirt, cinch bugs or grass stains."

The modern version is a far cry from old-school AstroTurf, a hard carpet of green that looks fake a mile away.

But the new advances with AstroLawn don't come cheap. To have it installed costs $6 to $7 a square foot or $3 to $4 without installation. Regular sod generally runs less than $1 per square foot.

The lawn starts with a sheen that fades after a couple of months, though the color will not. Rain seeps directly into the ground. The imitation lawn has a life expectancy of about 15 years.

And there's the practical benefit.

Public utility officials estimate that about 40% -- perhaps as much as 70% -- of an average residential water bill goes to outdoor uses. And 90% of that water is used on lawns.

Adams, a caregiver for homeowner Marjorie Jacob, said their real grass was plagued with unsightly brown spots and a $90 monthly gardening bill. She pays the gardener less these days and expects to start saving on her water bill.

The water district awarded Anaheim and AstroLawn a $51,000 grant to test the product at several locations. Five homes were chosen and the fake grass will also soon be installed at a business and on a city median.

Over the next few months, public utility officials will gather water-savings data. If all goes well, the water district will add synthetic lawns to their approved list of rebate items.

"This really dovetails into our current huge effort to convince Southern Californians that they're using too much water outdoors," said Denis Wolcott, spokesman for the MWD. "We can do a much better job."

Lindsey Climer, who is part of the pilot program, said he's a believer. His three children love it, and he said there are no grass stains or itchiness.

Before the lawn lost its initial sheen, Climer had his doubts. "When they were first putting it out, I just about had a heart attack," Climer said. "Once they finished, it was unbelievable. We love it."

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