It’s inevitable: June arrives and, with it, summer’s hot and dry conditions – except in California, where it’s really hot and really dry. Some say this current drought could last a decade, and Californians are still looking for ways to manage this serious issue. Usually everyone has the right intentions, but, in a state like California, it makes for certain ironic responses and policy advances.
In the state capital of Sacramento, a bill has been sponsored by state Rep. Jerry Hill that would include a moratorium on new construction for artificial crumb-rubber infill athletic fields until 2018 in public projects. It would also set forth a state study on the long-term health impacts of crumb-rubber, if any, associated with field users. At the same time, the state actively promotes and subsidizes the use of crumb-rubber in sports fields as a way to reduce automobile tires in landfills, which was a huge problem before these programs started nationwide.
Meanwhile, many homeowner associations and communities ban the use of artificial turf for many lawn-type applications, citing environmental and aesthetic concerns. To “save” water, the California state legislature is considering a bill that would rescind these local ordinances that ban artificial turf. Many water districts and providers are offering fairly strong financial incentives to remove irrigated turfgrass in lawns and replace with a simple, drought-tolerant landscape or artificial turf. Some commercial outfits are offering free grass removal when you install one of the two cookie-cutter designs, but they are being fought by environmental groups concerned with ground and ocean water quality when grass is converted to an abiotic artificial turf.
What will happen to utility bills when air conditioners struggle this summer to replace the cooling effects of grass?
Essentially, in California (and many other states), they promote, subsidize and ban artificial turf at the same time. The governor has mandated a 25 percent reduction in non-agricultural water use statewide. Eighty percent of California’s water use is for agriculture.
Beyond the ironies, there are more problematic issues to worry about when it comes to sports fields and the mandated 25 percent reduction in water use.
As of this writing, the water providers were trying to figure out local mandates that would satisfy this cut. This mandate could conflict with public safety when the natural grass fields can’t get enough irrigation this summer. What’s the policy when the natural grass fields get too hard and lack sufficient grass cover for safe play when fall sports start in August? This might not only close off many grass fields to play, but it might also put even more pressure on heavily scheduled artificial fields, which can get quite hot under certain summertime conditions common to much of California. How would these disruptions affect youth sports teams? A brown lawn is one thing, but closing athletic fields is different.
And what of California’s sporting cathedrals? Will we see brown patches of grass on national television at the five Major League Baseball stadiums, the three National Football League stadiums, the two Major League Soccer stadiums or the many college football stadiums if twice-a-week irrigation limits apply to these fields? I doubt it, but, speaking from experience, these field managers may be challenged to hit targeted cuts when they have been irrigating very efficiently and professionally for years.
Sports fields are not nearly as important as agricultural, industrial and business concerns when it comes to dealing with exceptional droughts. Food and jobs come before sports fields – and rightfully so – but these concerns with lawns and sports turf illustrate nicely just a few of the conflicting issues that more communities may have to deal with if fresh water shortages materialize as many predict.
So, what about your facilities? Could you hit a 25 percent water use reduction?
Have you ever tried?
COVER PHOTO COURTESY OF ISTOCK