Some folks will go to extraordinary lengths to keep their immaculately manicured, excessive hydrated lawns from turning an unbecoming shade of brown when faced with water restrictions brought on by periods of excessive drought. Just ask the thousands of lawn-conscious homeowners who have invested in residential turf painting. Because really, there’s nothing that Americans take more pride in than a glorious, well-groomed patch of turf out front, even if it happens to achieve that verdant glow from a thick application of nontoxic dye. And there’s nothing that Americans fear more than having said suburban monstrosity well-groomed patch lapse into blighted “eyesore” territory due to local water restrictions.

Some turf-worshipping residents in Austin, capital city of the perpetually parched state of Texas, have taken things to a whole new level when it comes to keeping a pristine, status quo lawn (ugh) during times of extreme drought: In lieu of cutting back on landscaping-related water usage and dutifully conserving H2O like their friends and neighbors, they’re drilling private wells on their property so that they can continue to irrigate their artificially enhanced lawns as they please without fear of being fined for disobeying the city’s once-per-week lawn watering restrictions ($11,000 in fines have been issued in the city since August) or racking up sky-high water bills.

In a recent article published by the Texas Tribune (hat tip to Grist), the Lone Star State’s long-serving attorney general — and leading 2014 Republican gubernatorial candidate — Greg Abbott is singled out as being just one name on an “exclusive and growing” list of well-heeled Austin residents who have drilled wells on their property to maintain lush lawns in the midst of what the surface water-strapped city itself refers to as a "historic challenge." (Others include two men who are more than intimate with well-maintained turf: University of Texas football coach Mack Brown and pro golfer Ben Crenshaw) 

Naturally, environmentalists and city leaders are concerned with the unchecked drill-and-pump frenzy that has gripped the city due in part to the potentially negative effect that it can have on groundwater supplies. Then there's the fact that the act itself, while totally legit, is in blatant disregard of the city's aggressive Stage 2 water conservation efforts.

Andrew Sansom, executive director of the Meadows Center for Water and Environment at Texas State University, tells the Texas Tribune. “To me it’s just unconscionable. It’s a total disregard for the resource. What we should be doing is reducing our consumption of water.”

The Tribune goes on to explain:

Austin has no power to stop landowners from drilling water underneath their own terrain in pro-property-rights Texas. It can only monitor the proliferation of private wells, which Jason Hill, an Austin Water Utility spokesman, said officials are doing ‘vigorously.’

The City Council recently passed an ordinance requiring water well owners to register with the city and pay an annual fee of $90. So far, 314 wells are on file, and dozens more residents have submitted their intent to drill, but the city estimates that more than 500 existing wells have yet to register.

The tension between property rights interests and the management of underwater resources is sure to increase in Texas politics as the drought continues to take its toll on the state’s surface water supplies. With the major reservoirs supplying Austin holding just over a third of their capacity, growing cities and industries are looking to groundwater to quench their thirst.

But the resource is hardly managed in some areas of the state, including Austin. While state legislators have set up nearly 100 entities elsewhere to regulate groundwater, Texas’ capital city goes by the century-old 'rule of capture.’ According to the rule, Abbott can pump the water under his land as much as he likes, even if a neighbor’s well were to go dry as a result — as long as he is not intentionally wasteful or malicious.

So there’s that. While records show that Abbott’s potential Democratic competitor in the 2014 gubernatorial race, state Sen. Wendy Davis, has not drilled any private wells on her property in the quest to maintain a lush lawn, she does very much take a similar, pro-property stance and supports the rule of capture: “She has a strong record of protecting the rights of Texas property owners and believes that if you own the land, you own the water underneath,” Bo Delp, Davis’ campaign spokesman, tells the Tribune.

Any Austin residents care to chime in on the issue? How has your lawn fared in the midst of the city’s water restrictions? Have you considered doing something environmentally sensible like reducing the size of or ripping out your turf lawn altogether and replacing it with something a little more climate-appropriate? Or are you totally copacetic with the city's lawn watering limits?

It's also worth noting that as of Sept. 1, homeowners associations across Texas — and there are a lot in certain parts of Austin and its 'burbs — can no longer prohibit homeowners from tearing up their lawns and embarking on "reasonable" xeriscaping projects. There's never been a better time, folks ...

Via [Texas Tribune] via [Grist]

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