Brooke Wells, head of high school, and Patricia Jacobsen, dean of student life, confer near the grass that was planted around the high-school office during the summer.

Despite drought, school plants three new lawns; however, SCDS water consumption has dropped 26 percent since summer 2014

It’s a little past 10 p.m., when the still campus suddenly comes alive with the sound of rushing water. On the soccer field, trails of cold spray are thrown high into the sky, to come down as a steady mist on the parched grass. After 10 minutes, this portion of the field goes quiet, only to be followed by another round of watering in an adjacent quadrant.

While this scene is a common occurrence, some students say that the drenching is unnecessary and wasteful as California suffers through its fourth year of a record-breaking drought.

It’s not just the existing fields that annoy students. In the middle of August, the maintenance department planted new lawns in all three main outdoor gathering spaces (the lower-school plaza, the middle-school plaza and the high-school quad), according to Jay Holman, director of the physical plant.

But senior America Lopez says the school shouldn’t have added the new grass.

“I think the campus looked fine before with the old grass,” Lopez said.

New sod – the type used in all three planting locations – requires additional watering after placement for two to three weeks (typically 20 minutes of watering or more depending on the temperature of the air; in temperatures exceeding 70 degrees these watering sessions are required three times a day for a total of an hour) to allow the roots to take hold, said Ramona Alvarez, a landscape specialist at Home Depot.

However, Holman contends that the additions amount to nothing more than routine annual upkeep designed to keep the school attractive.

“We have prospective families coming in to visit,” Holman said.

“We have other events coming up. It’s very important that the campus looks nice.”

Sophomore Atsuo Chiu disagrees with Holman’s assessment.

“I get it,” Chiu said. “They are trying to make the campus look nice. But I think it makes us look out of touch.

“When the rest of the neighborhood is completely yellow and we have brand-new lawns, it just looks like we don’t care.”

However, Holman argues that the amount of grass added (2,580 sq. feet) is negligible, and headmaster Stephen Repsher agrees.

“The locations that got the new grass were mainly small, high-visibility areas,” Repsher said.

“The new plantings don’t even come close to the amount (of water) the field requires.”

He added that the school has complied with the spirit and letter of the city water-restriction ordinances (watering is restricted to two days a week during evening and early morning hours).

“As long as we meet the regulation, and do what we are supposed and required to do, then we are acting responsibly,” Repsher said.

The school has reduced water consumption by almost 26 percent in June and July of 2015 in comparison to June and July of 2014, according to records kept by the city of Sacramento Department of Utilities.

Repsher noted that the city of Sacramento has met the required 28-percent reduction in water use ordered by governor Jerry Brown. Water-use reduction is managed holistically. Individual users do not  have to achieve the 28 percent reduction.

But Rhea Serran, head of public relations for the Department of Utilities, said that the city has ordinances that require even freshly laid sod to follow the twice-a-week mandate.

“Typically, new sod will die if it isn’t watered every day for the first few weeks,” Serran said.

“We ask both residential and commercial users to use drought-tolerant landscaping and plants whenever possible, and we discourage new turf.”

Not all students disapprove of the new grass.

“I think we should sacrifice some eco-friendliness if that is what it takes to keep the campus looking nice and green,” senior Nathan Chan said.

But Johann Dias, president of the Environmental and Recycling Club, says that the school could do more.

“I feel like letting the grass fade to a golden brown would send a positive message, especially to local-incoming families, and show them that Country Day is a very environmentally friendly place, although it might come off as strange to out-of-state visitors,” he said.

But Repsher disagrees.

“If we wanted to make a statement, we could let it all die,” he said.

“But when the drought is over, and it will be over, we would be left with a lot of dead grass.”

Repsher argues that strategically placed grassy spaces are integral to the Country Day aesthetic.

“We have to have a few patches of grass for students to sit on,” Repsher said.

Holman adds that while the maintenance department did plant new grass, they also aerated the property (poking holes into the ground to help water absorption), put down ground cover (mulch) and shortened the amount of time some water cycles receive.

Holman also said that the new grass will serve a utilitarian role in the winter.

“When it does rain, all those places that would have dried out had we not planted new grass would’ve become mud, and been tracked into the buildings,” Holman said.

Repsher also isn’t in favor of another student suggestion – artificial grass replacements for the field.

“To put in an artificial grass field (in place of the soccer field) would be close to a million dollars,” Repsher said.

“Also, the little black pellets (that help hold the field down) would cause problems in the ecosystem.”

According to NBC News the black pellets contain carcinogens and other dangerous chemicals.

Repsher is also against the painted lawn trend (typically a residential practice where a lawn is allowed to brown significantly, but is then colored with an organically based dye to look lush).

“If it came to the point where water was restricted so heavily that we had to paint the grass, then I would just suggest that we pave it over or put in a xeriscape landscape (a landscape that uses no or next-to-no water),” Repsher said.

Meanwhile, it’s 6 a.m. and the campus is receiving its final round of water as the sprinklers shut off. The sun rises over the soggy baseball diamond, and the verdant greens of Country Day greet another scorching California morning.

—By Manson Tung

garden graphic

Previously published in the print edition on September 22, 2015. 

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