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Water conservation effort earns Sacramento couple a $746 fine

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Randall Benton/NEWSCOM

(Read caption) Anne Hartridge stands in front of the lawn that she allowed to go dormant in order to conserve water. In the background, a neighbor waters a lawn.

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The Sacramento Bee has a story today about an environmentally conscious couple who are facing a hefty fine for letting their lawn turn brown.

After California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) declared a statewide drought on June 4, Anne Hartridge and her husband, Matt George, decided to stop watering their lawn and switch to less water-intensive landscaping. But before the East Sacramento couple could plan their new yard, a neighbor complained to the city and their home's brown lawn was declared a "public nuisance" in violation of a city code that mandates that front yards "be irrigated, landscaped, and maintained." The landscaping law is intended to prevent one household's yard from driving down the property values of neighbors' homes.

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Unless they correct the violation, the couple will be issued a $746 fine.

Ms. Hartridge says she contacted someone at the city's Code Enforcement Division, who promised to send her landscaping solutions but never did, and her local councilman, who didn't return her call.

The Bee contacted Dennis Kubo, Sacramento's code enforcement manager. "The zoning ordinance tells us that the property owner's got to have landscaping. So that's what we have to do," he said.

The concept of a lawn dates from from 19th-century England, where rainfall was sufficient to maintain the health of the grass. In certain regions of the US, however, maintaining grass requires large amounts of water. Most lawn grass doesn't die in dry summer conditions, but it does turn brown temporarily to reduce its demand for water.

A recent stuy by NASA estimated that some 80,000 square miles of the United States is covered by lawns, making it "the single largest irrigated crop in America in terms of surface area."