Keeping your grass green through watering can cost a lot of green. But it can set you back even more, depending on the price you pay for water and the climate in your region.
So, where in America is lawn irrigation the biggest drain on consumers’ wallets?
Lawn Love ranked 2022’s Most Expensive Cities for Lawn Irrigation ahead of World Water Day on March 22.
In each of the 50 major U.S. cities in our ranking, we compared the average water bill against the typical yard size to measure residents’ average monthly utility expense on outdoor water use. They range from $0.65 to $9.49 per 1,000 square feet of lawn.
We also considered various factors that affect the cost of landscape irrigation, such as the types of grass that grow in each city, the region’s proneness to drought, and the legality of harvesting rainwater in the state.
Find out if your city’s grass is greener — but costs more to water — in our ranking below, followed by our in-depth analysis.
In this article
See how each city fared in our ranking:
Results in depth
Two states, namely California and Texas, stand out in our ranking — for the wrong reasons. All of the cities we included from these states landed in the top 50%.
Golden State cities dominate the first 10, including Fresno at No. 1 overall, while most of the Lone Star State claims the teens. Austin leads Texas cities at No. 7.
Unfortunately, these aren’t stats to brag about. Texas cities ended up in our ranking’s upper half due to their sprawling (aka water-intensive) yards. Meanwhile, California simply confirmed our hunch: It bombed the financial metrics. Both states share the top positions in Cost Determinants, made up mostly of climate factors.
East vs. West
Plotting our five most expensive and five cheapest cities for lawn irrigation on a map shows us a clear division between East and West (and North versus South).
All of our cheapest cities lie east of the Missouri River — save for Omaha, which sits right on it — and in the northern half of the U.S. Meanwhile, all of the most expensive are west of the river, mostly clustered in Southern California, and near the border with Mexico.
Familiarity with regional climates (and climate trends) leaks the reasons for these patterns: The West is currently grappling with its worst drought in over 1,200 years, whereas colder climates in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic make it difficult to keep grass green in winter.
Dollars and No Sense
From a purely dollar perspective, Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington — in that order — are the least affordable cities for lawn irrigation despite having some of the smallest average yards in our ranking.
What do these cities have in common besides their relative lack of residential green space? They’re among the 10 most expensive cities in which to live — period. Everything, including utilities, costs a pretty penny in these parts, so it’s no surprise that they fared worst in the Cost category.
Chicagoans can rest easy knowing every drop of water that falls on their lawn goes a long way. The Windy City came in last in our ranking — in other words, residents here get the most bang for their buck.
While the conditions for maintaining a verdant landscape in Chicago aren’t perfect, they’re right enough. For instance, the average yard size here is smaller than those in only two other cities, and the cost of water is relatively cheap.
More importantly, most of the grass types that would thrive in this city — cold-season grasses like fine and tall fescues and perennial ryegrasses — all require minimal H2O.
We ranked 50 U.S. cities from most to least expensive to water (1-50) based on their overall scores (out of 100 points), averaged across the weighted metrics listed below.
Notes about individual metrics:
Average Water Price per 1,000 Square Feet of Yard Space
We obtained water price data from Bluefield Research and calculated one-third of each city’s average water bill as a benchmark for the amount allocated toward outdoor use, according to usage estimates from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Water Requirement for Most Common Grass Type(s)
Scores were awarded based on the most common (or the most ideal) types of grass that grow in each city and the level of watering they require to maintain good health. If the most common grass type could not be identified for a particular city, an average of the total points across the most ideal grass type(s) were used (a higher score corresponds with a higher rank):
- Light = 1 point
- Medium = 2 points
- High = 3 points
Legality of Rainwater Harvesting in State
Scores were awarded based on legal stringency (a lower score corresponds with a higher rank):
- Major restrictions = 1 point
- Minor restrictions = 2 points
- No restrictions = 3 points
- Harvesting encouraged = 4 points
Drought Scores were available from the source, the National Center for Disaster Preparedness (Columbia Climate School), at the county level only.
Bluefield Research, LawnStarter, Lawn Love, National Center for Disaster Preparedness (Columbia Climate School), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (U.S. Department of Energy), Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, and World Water Reserve
H2(Uh)O — We’re in Hot Water
We all want the greenest lawn on our block. But any experienced homeowner knows that a beautiful bed of grass soaks up a lot of water — and cash.
According to the EPA, the average American family uses 320 gallons of water per day. About a third of that — and up to 60% in hot, dry climates — goes to watering our lawns.
Soaring water prices don’t help.
According to Bluefield Research, “The combined water and wastewater bill for a typical U.S. household has increased by 43.2% since 2012” — to over $111 per month — rising faster than other utility bills, such as for electricity and gas. In a smaller handful of cities, water prices have increased as much as 80%, completely pricing many residents out of water access.
Of course, the price of water isn’t the only factor that determines the cost of lawn irrigation these days. Consumers today also have to consider climate change, record inflation, rising energy costs, and, more recently, a geopolitical rainstorm with no end in sight.
With World Water Day about to wash over us, this study aims to spotlight not only where high water costs are hurting consumers but where smarter lawn irrigation practices and systems are most needed.
Xeriscaping is one such solution. This drought-friendly type of landscaping replaces existing grass with artificial turf and can save homeowners up to 75% on their water bill.
Want to cut your lawn watering costs? Contact a Lawn Love pro to install a drought-friendly landscape.