With California facing its worst drought and water agencies throughout the state asking residents to cut back home water use, "it's the right thing to do," says Johnson, an avid fly fisherman who's attuned to water issues. With more and more competing demands for a limited water supply and tighter restrictions likely, maintaining a water-guzzling lawn is looking like the equivalent of driving a Hummer. The statewide figure covers a lot of variation; Charles Bohlig, East Bay Municipal Utility District water conservation supervisor, notes that although its customers use an average of 40 percent of their household water on lawns and gardens, house lots are larger and lawn irrigation use higher on the dry side of the East Bay hills. Lawn fertilizers give off nitrous oxide - a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. John Greenlee, Brisbane landscape designer and author of "The American Meadow Garden" and an advocate of low-water landscaping, has been through big droughts in the '70s and '80s and believes this drought has brought California to a tipping point. What accounts for its tenacious cultural hold? "There's almost a visceral reaction to grass, the way it's soft and springy underfoot," says Brenzel. East Coast transplantThe East, where summer rains make lawns viable, was where influential 19th century landscape architects such as Frank Jessup Scott made the lawn a marker of prosperity and respectability and a key element of civic beautification. [...] in recent years, there's been a shift in attitudes toward lawns, says Kathy Kramer, founder and organizer of the East Bay's Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour (see box), which for the past 10 years has spotlighted homes with mostly native, drought-tolerant plantings. People who are interested in saving money on their water bill, eliminating pesticide use, and enjoying nature right outside their home are moving toward this newer and, I think, more interesting, type of garden. Other options people are trying: ornamental plants from other Mediterranean climate zones, succulents, even "edible lawns" of heritage grains. The East Bay Municipal Utility District, which has asked its customers to cut home water use by 10 percent, recently green-lighted homeowner Michael Johnson's project as part of its conversion rebate program (see box). At a "Mow No Mo" workshop hosted by Johnson in March, participants will smother his turf under layers of pomace compost - the residue from grape pressing - cardboard and wood-chip mulch.