Running Dry: Californians turning to artificial turf as drought continues

NEWARK, Calif. (KTVU) - California's drought is forcing residents to rethink the way they use water, especially when it comes to their yards.

Now more and more home owners are turning to artificial turf to replace their thirsty lawns.

Jim Luthi of Newark surveyed his brand new $15,000 artificial lawn and said the time had finally come. "Thirty something years of having droughts on and off," he told KTVU.

He said he took great pride in having a lush, green lawn. But he said he was getting a little too old to be pushing a lawn mower around and decided it was time for the grass to go. Another reason is the drought.

"A few years ago I wouldn't have got this because I didn't like the artificial turf but they've gotten so good now that I figured you know what, I'm going to do it. And I wanted to lessen the workload on myself a little too," he said.

Michael McGinnis loaded his pick up with a giant roll of artificial turf at the Global Syn-Turf warehouse in Hayward recently. McGinnis is a landscaper and says he's getting a lot more business installing turf.

"It's becoming extremely popular. People can't get enough of it I guess," he told KTVU.

Global Syn-Turf runs the 45,000 square foot warehouse near its Hayward headquarters.

Dave Maronic is a company vice-president. He told KTVU the business is booming. "We've doubled, tripled every month," he said.

This isn't your old-fashioned, carpet looking Astroturf.

"It looks just like the real thing, feels like the real thing. It's environmentally safe for the kids, for the pets," said Maronic.

Global Syn-Turf says it's installing a million square feet of turf at the Twin Creeks sports complex in Sunnyvale.

As for concerns about the rubber infill linked to health issues, Maronic says it's up to customers to decide what to use.

"There's different padding to meet G-Max ratings for fields that you don't have to use that rubber. So it's not something we carry. Not something we sell," he said.

It's still less expensive to install real grass than artificial turf. But over time artificial turf will pay for itself through lower water bills.

Brad Borgman is sales director at Heavenly Greens, an artificial turf retailer. He says the product has gone through drastic changes in recent years.

"It's still something different to see it in your lawn, finished product like we have here and it just kind of blows people away," he told KTVU.

Even when the drought ends, there's a sense that some customers will stay with the artificial stuff for the long haul.

At least that's the thinking of Jim Luthi as he gazes at his pristine Newark yard. "I think it looks great. Looks fabulous. Looks like regular grass."