Image credit:”Sprinklers,” Aqua Mechanical © 2016

For most of the United States, we’ve reached the time of year where Americans desire to maintain a perfectly green lawn starts to be tested by the warmer and dryer summer months. From the water industry’s perspective, it’s staggering just how many billions of gallons of treated water ends up being sprayed across our hallowed front and back yards in maintaining a full and aesthetically-pleasing lawn.

According to the EPA, 30 to 70 percent of a municipality’s drinkable water ends up on lawns. That’s nine billion gallons per day of water that has been screened, filtered, disinfected and pumped through the distribution system only to be sprayed out on the ground. Reporting on a 2005 NASA estimate, the Chicago Tribune reported that there’s roughly 40 million acres of lawn in the contiguous United States, making turf grasses by far the largest single irrigated crop in the country.

With the drought of the early-2010s across California, Texas, and much of the South West came a number of initiatives and much public-shaming to curb the excessive use of potable water for lawn irrigation. Speaking on a Freakonomics podcast, Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles, explained how lawns and landscaping use 50 percent of LA water but through a number of initiatives such as replacing lawns with drought-tolerant plants or installing rain barrels to capture rainfall for watering, residents began to think differently about their lawns. But according to California’s Water Resources Control Board, Californians water conservation habits have quickly evaporated and drought-free, the sprinklers are back on.

Beyond the irrigation, lawn care and feeding is an expensive business. Ted Steinberg, author of American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn, writes that Americans spend $60 billion a year on the turf grass industry. The EPA has estimated that we use 580 million gallons of gasoline each year in lawnmowers and 67 million pounds of pesticides. The carbon footprint is a heavy one.

And beyond the price tag, it seems that many of us don’t like the task. As reported by the Chicago Tribune, a 2011 CBS news poll found that 20 percent of Americans considered mowing the lawn their least-liked chore; perhaps because it takes us on average 70 hours per year.

As we grapple with the challenges of educating our consumers on the value of water and increasing water rates to cover the costs of repairing and replacing our aging water infrastructure across the country, it may also drive a new relationship for many Americans with their beloved lawn.