Living Lawns, Dying Waters: The Suburban Boom, Nitrogenous Fertilizers, and the Nonpoint Source Pollution Dilemma

The rise of a lawn-dominated, suburban landscape in the United States after World War II brought with it not only a pervasive aesthetic infrastructure, but also widespread environmental consequences in the form of nutrient pollution in runoff. This paper examines the technical, legal, and social aspects of lawnscape creation in America and posits a nearly intractable dilemma in the incommensurability between the material and social realities of this large sociotechnical system and the evolution of U.S. water pollution regulation. The details of these unintended consequences are worth understanding not only for environmental advocates interested in resolving this dilemma and protecting waterways from eutrophication, but also for historians of technology continuing to develop a more complete historical picture of modern landscapes and infrastructures.