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With less water for lawns, some Californians switch to drought-resistant landscapes

ERIN STONE, BYLINE: I'm Erin Stone in Los Angeles, where more than a third of water goes to outdoor irrigation, a lot of it at homes. Because of the historic drought, 6 million Southern California homes can water their lawns only once or twice a week, and a complete ban may come soon.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAWNMOWER BUZZING)

STONE: Walking a lawn and tree-lined street in the lush neighborhood of Hancock Park is Damon Ayala, a patroller with the city's water conservation response unit. He's already written a citation for sprinklers being on when they shouldn't be. His unit's been called water cops, but Ayala prefers a different label.

DAMON AYALA: We're more like water educators because our primary objective is not to fine anybody. Fines do not help us save water. We'd rather educate and get behavioral change.

STONE: Ayala says fines do little to stem the flow of the biggest residential users. The LA Times recently reported Kim Kardashian is among several celebrities who have flouted the rules. But the majority of people are listening. LA used a record low amount of water in June and July.

AYALA: People are aware.

STONE: Hancock Park resident Shlomete Yoo says her neighbors seem to mostly be doing their part.

SHLOMETE YOO: A lot of neighbors have stopped, but then there's some people who seem to don't know or have ignored the new regulations. So it's a mixed bag here.

STONE: One obvious indication - lawns are starting to go brown. California stands to lose 10% of its water supply in the next 20 years as the climate crisis dries out the West. To put that in context, that's more than the state's largest reservoir, which is 35 miles long, can hold at capacity. One way the state aims to save more water - by removing 500 million square feet of lawns by 2030. So lawns, that symbol of the American dream, are looking to be on their way out in Southern California. That's the case for Lynetta McElroy, who moved to Leimert Park in the 1980s. She replaced her grass lawn with a drought-tolerant landscape during the last severe drought in 2014, the first on her block to do so.

LYNETTA MCELROY: It was odd, it was different, but I feel that it was not only the right thing to do - I feel very firmly about that - but I was able to educate so many others and they came around.

STONE: Now, several of her neighbors also have drought-tolerant landscapes.

MCELROY: I am happy that we're part of the solution.

STONE: For NPR News, I'm Erin Stone in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Erin Stone