Smaller lawns could net big water savings

A U.S. town could save tens of millions of liters of water per year by adopting more densely-packed housing with smaller lawns, researchers say in Landscape and Urban Planning.

It seems obvious that big lawns would lead to more water use. But studies on the topic often analyze only a small number of houses or lack fine-grained data. To take a more rigorous approach, the study authors collected water use data on 4,412 households in Ipswich, Massachusetts from 2001 to 2006. They also classified patches of land as lawn, soil, or trees using aerial photographs with a resolution of 0.5 meters.

Households with larger lawns and more baths used more water, the team reports. If the status quo continues, the town will see 4.4 square kilometers of new housing by 2030, about 62 percent of which will be taken up by lawns. If the town adopts a “Smart Growth” strategy, with denser housing covering 0.76 square kilometers and 43 percent of newly-developed land devoted to lawns, it will use about 46 million fewer liters of water per year, the researchers predict. “Regardless of the strategy chosen, policy makers and homeowners alike must face the growing scarcity of usable water in the region,” the team writes. Roberta Kwok | 12 August 2013

Source: Runfola, D.M. et al. 2013. A growing concern? Examining the influence of lawn size on residential water use in suburban Boston, MA, USA. Landscape and Urban Planning doi: 10.1016/j.landurbplan.2013.07.006.

Image © Artur Ish | Shutterstock

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