Dr. Tony Koski of Colorado State University wrote the following letter he wrote to Denver Water in response to their recent summer ad campaign:

Koski castigates water-saving ad program

To: Marie Bassett

Director of Public Affairs

Denver Water

Dear Ms. Bassett,

As a member of the larger Colorado turf and green industry, I am writing this in response to you “Grass is Dumb” water conservation media program. As an industry, we find this ad campaign to be both non-factual and somewhat insulting to the professionals who maintain turfgrass and those scientists who conduct turf research. Further, we would contend that the “message” (that we all can use a little less water in everything we do – which we all encourage and can agree upon) is lost in the cuteness of the ads – and that people will entirely miss the point of the ad campaign.

First, the “grass is dumb” slogan anthropomorphizes plants. A bluegrass plant doesn’t have a brain (as one of your ads DOES correctly suggest), thus it can be neither intelligent nor ”dumb”. However, the processes by which bluegrass responds to drought stress are so complex that they are still not fully understood by scientists. The drying of soil as a result of drought (or lack of irrigation) stimulates a whole series of physiological responses in the bluegrass plant (or any drought resistant plant, for that matter) that cause it to slow down metabolically and use less water. This is why less frequent irrigation (or applying less water every time you do irrigate) DOES reduce the plant’s water use rate. The plant is not dumbly aware that water is less available, but responds – in a very complex way – to soil drying.

Second, in spite of the fact that we still don’t totally understand drought resistance mechanisms in turfgrasses, turf breeders have been measureable increasing drought resistance in Kentucky bluegrass for 20+ years. Your ad suggesting that “grass is grass” and that “evolution” has somehow bypassed the turfgrass plant belies the efforts of these breeders (and the many millions of dollars spent annually by such companies as Scotts) to develop more drought, heat, traffic, and pest resistant cultivars of all turfgrasses.

Finally, we feel there is perhaps an underlying bias in your message against lawns and their management. I won’t bother listing the numerous environmental benefits of lawns, as well as the documented positive economic impact of the lawn, landscape, sod and allied green industries on Colorado’s economy.

While it is apparent that you paid an advertising firm a good amount of money to develop this campaign, we feel it has missed the mark and portrays lawns and the industry in which we work in a negative light. It is our hope that, in the future, you might consider working with some of our green industry professionals as you develop conservation campaigns that might be both educational and effective in doing what all of us strive for – keeping landscapes green and healthy, with less water.


Dr. Tony Koski

Extension Turf Specialist and Professor

Reprinted from Turfgrass Producers International’s e-newsletter