My American Dream

Guest post by Lorna Devenish: 

It’s easy to take for granted a temperate climate, where the rain* brings all the watering you need for a pretty lush front lawn. Most things grow, with a bit of a helping hand, often too much.

*I live in Devon

I recently visited America, to stay with my sister and brother-in-law. I was astounded that everywhere I looked there was a perfect, uniform, bright green lawn, which had been watered, fertilised and laced with herbicide.



Weather varies widely across the continental USA: the Southwest is arid, the Northwest is cooler and wetter, and the Midwest and Northeast have four distinct seasons. Generally speaking, summer in America is hotter and drier than we’re used to in the UK. So the desire to grow (and water) lawns left me somewhat confused.

“Why do they do that”, I asked my sister, “It’s terrible for pollinators, water quality, biodiversity…you name it.”

She informed me that it was a status symbol, and sort of expected within a neighbourhood. I was itching to suggest ways to harvest rainwater, to reduce the amount of highly treated potable water sprinkled on the grass. She was sort of sympathetic and my American brother-in-law quite liked the idea of converting the grass to wildflowers, but they were not fully convinced.

As the heat of the day came in, we stepped inside for a glass of water. Herein came the second problem. Whilst taste is a personal preference, the water I drank did not taste good, and I was left wondering whether the high volumes of water being used (water use per capita is twice as high in the USA than the UK), were taking their toll on the pipes in the network.

With a growing population and less predictable rainfall patterns, we (i.e. inhabitants of the spaceship we call Earth) need to use what we have more wisely. Promoting water conservation is a necessity. Water should be viewed as a precious, scarce and lovingly treated resource. Rainwater should be seen as an opportunity, not a threat.

I wonder if a step change can be made culturally, in the deep-seated need to preserve a non-native, water-guzzling, green desert outside of our homes. Doing so, could create space for smart, sustainable, and (with careful design) aesthetically pleasing raingardens and planting.

Living the American Dream is one thing, but I can’t wait to get back to working towards a Sustainable Dream. Making small changes in planting, rainwater capture and day to day behaviors can help the UK become an exemplar to others on how to manage our precious water more sustainably.

Lorna Devenish is our Community Engagement Specialist, with 20 years+ experience in water sector communications. She has led co-design workshops for green space and urban realm projects. 

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