In the resort area of Sun Valley, Idaho- like in so many American towns- the standard of backyard beauty is “golf-course aesthetic”. In an area where typical rainfall is just 15 inches per year, that’s not sustainable: that is, there’s just not enough water for all that lawn, plus the fish, etc.
Now that there are water restrictions in effect, residents are taking a second look at their turf. “I consider a green Bluegrass lawn is the equivalent ecologically of a parking lot,” explains landscape ecologist Kelley Weston. He says backyards can play an important role in providing habitat for animals; not only do lawns fail to serve that purpose, but they use too much water and pesticides and require more maintenance than a native equivalent.
While Kelley admits that a bit of lawn is fine, in his designs he limits the size to a small patch and uses native grasses- like Fescue, buffalo and native wheat grass- that require much less water (In the Sun Valley area a certified Trout Friendly Lawn is water-wise, pesticide-free and uses native and drought-tolerant plants).
In this video Kelley shows us a LEED-certified native landscape in Ketchum, Idaho. If it were entirely lawn it would require about 90,000 gallons of water per year (18 gallons/square foot). With the xeriscaped option he has installed, when it is fully mature he expects it will use 8 to 10 gallons per year.