A Sign Saying Back Off My (Green) Lawn


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Some Californians are placing signs in their yards identifying the source of their irrigation water.

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Nathan Weyland for The New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO — In Northern California, curious signs of the drought are popping up at homes with lush lawns.

They read: “Our gardens are watered by a well,” or, “non-potable water in use for irrigation.”

What they’re really saying is, don’t be mad at me because of my green lawn.

They stand in contrast to many residents in this state who have let their landscaping suffer to save water and to show they are willing to forego beauty for the sake of civic duty.

But some people who have residential wells — and therefore aren’t drawing from the public water system — have continued to water at will. And they have put up the signs to keep from being shamed by their neighbors, or worse, waking up to white grass.

“I don’t want someone bleaching my lawn,” said Matt, who has two signs out in front of his Bay Area home that read “Watering With Well Water.” Matt requested that his name and city of residence not be used, because — no surprise — he wants to keep as low a profile as possible.

At his previous residence, a neighbor “got in my face” about using the sprinklers, he said, so he put up the signs to help forestall “an unknown miserable conversation I don’t want to have.”

In a conversation like that, “You’re suddenly on the defensive,” he said. “There’s no reason to be defensive.”

That is debatable. For one thing, the well water, while it is not drawn from reservoirs, isn’t exactly disconnected from the overall water supply. It is collected and held in underground aquifers that are shared by many.

“People think groundwater is a magical, infinite supply of water,” said Peter Gleick, an environmental scientist at the Pacific Institute in Oakland, Calif. That said, he added, a few hundred residential wells might not have much of an effect.

“From a scientific perspective, these people are probably right, it doesn’t really matter,” he added. “But if more and more people did it, it’s a tragedy of the commons.”

Chuck Moore, owner of Pacific Coast Well and Pump in Castro Valley, Calif., a suburb of San Francisco and Oakland, had 1,000 signs printed for customers like Matt to tell skeptical passers-by that they are using well water for their lawns. Mr. Moore said he got the idea about a year ago when a number of his customers said to him, as he recalled, “‘Geez, I’m taking a lot of flak about watering my yard.’”

Continue reading the main story

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Mr. Moore has given out about 100 so far, to customers from farther north in Napa to Atherton, which is a particularly well-heeled Silicon Valley township. The customers’ interest in the signs is a bonus for Mr. Moore, who used to give out company signs to customers to put on their lawns but they would often take them down.

Now, looking for cover fire from potentially irritated neighbors, they leave the new signs up.

“It’s a marketing deal,” Mr. Moore said. “People see my name and phone number and call me for a well.”



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