Brown lawns loom this summer in California 

click to enlarge In this aerial photo taken Tuesday, April 28, 2015, a spillway sits more than a 100 yards away from the water level of Lake McClure in Mariposa County Northeast of Merced, Calif. The State Water Resources Control Board is considering sweeping mandatory emergency regulations to protect water supplies as water levels at some of California's lakes and reservoirs continue to decline. - AP PHOTO/RICH PEDRONCELLI
  • AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
  • In this aerial photo taken Tuesday, April 28, 2015, a spillway sits more than a 100 yards away from the water level of Lake McClure in Mariposa County Northeast of Merced, Calif. The State Water Resources Control Board is considering sweeping mandatory emergency regulations to protect water supplies as water levels at some of California's lakes and reservoirs continue to decline.

It was with more hope than accuracy that the founder of this Orange County town picked the name Garden Grove in 1874 for what was little more than an open plain under the sweltering Southern California sun.

More than a century later, this sprawling middle-class suburb of 175,000 people is true to its name, with parks, trees and lush lawns — for now at least.

In Garden Grove and other communities across the state, residents can expect to see their gardens shrivel and lawns go brown this summer as mandatory water-conservation rules take effect amid California's punishing, four-year drought.

State regulators Tuesday ordered communities to slash water use by as much as 36 percent.

People who paid dearly to make their lawns beautiful are loath to sacrifice, though.

Garden Grove residents used even more water than usual last summer after Gov. Jerry Brown asked people to conserve. The city has banned watering lawns during the day but sends fewer than a dozen notices a month to violators. And a big indoor water park and resort is under construction with plans to open early next year.

Still, one tree-lined neighborhood in Garden Grove shows the path to conservation. Yellowing grass remains where lawns were once lush, and some of the greenest yards are artificial turf.

"I used to have the greenest grass in the whole neighborhood," boasted Mike Meza, a 36-year-old longshoreman who said he misses gardening with his sons. "Lately we've just been letting it go."

He has scaled back watering to twice a month, told his kids to take four-minute showers and bangs on the bathroom door when his 14-year-old takes too long.

Nearly half of residential water in California goes to lawns, so turning off sprinklers will be one of the first orders of business.

"We can meet these targets by putting the lawns on a water diet now," said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board, which is empowered to enforce the rules but has so far opted not to use its authority to issue fines of up to $10,000 a day for cities that don't comply.

Garden Grove is one of many cities that have recently eased restrictions against fake grass. Laws have also been passed to make it easier to create drought-friendly landscapes of rocks, cactus and other water-stingy plants.

And one of the largest water providers in Southern California recently doubled a rebate program encouraging homeowners to rip out lawns.

"That doesn't mean getting rid of lawns everywhere. It means keeping them only where they are useful, not just as a ornament, but a place for kids to play, to have a picnic, to have dogs run around," said Ellen Hanak, director of the water policy center at the Public Policy Institute of California.

Calls to the Garden Grove mayor, city council, water services director and city spokesman were not immediately returned Wednesday, so it's not clear how far officials are willing to go.

But if cities like Garden Grove aren't reaching their conservation mandates, state regulators say they will direct them to communities that have made big cutbacks to learn by example.

For example, Santa Cruz residents who overwater their lawns or fail to fix leaks are sent to "water school," in the same way that bad drivers have to go to traffic school.

Sacramento has deployed dozens of city employees to warn residents who water their lawns on the wrong day, and residents are encouraged to inform on their neighbors.

The state government is also ramping up programs to reduce water use. Lawn removal programs and rebates for customers who replace water-guzzling faucets and household appliances are expanding under an executive order by the governor.

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