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The Dry Garden: L.A. offers rebate for ripping out your lawn

LawnAlternativeAs if broken sprinklers, polluting mowers or the simple desire to conserve water weren't enough, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is giving its customers more motivation to let go of their lawns. Single-family homes can get a rebate of up to $2,000, assuming you meet criteria for the Residential Drought Resistant Landscape Incentive Program.

The program was announced in The Times' California Briefing last week. L.A. at Home's drought-tolerant-gardening columnist, Emily Green, offers some additional details as well as some context: Though the program is a good idea, she says, L.A. is still playing catch-up to places such as Las Vegas, which offered its residents 50% more money to do the same thing.

Check out Green's full column after the jump.

-- Craig Nakano

Photo credit: Debra Lee Baldwin

By Emily Green

Fast on the heels of the new watering ordinances that took effect June 1, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has begun a cash-for-grass program. Single-family homes served by the DWP will be eligible to receive $1 for every square foot of turf that they replace with less thirsty alternatives.

For years Southern California water managers paid scant attention to outdoor water conservation. Then they saw stunning savings achieved in Nevada. According to the Southern Nevada Water Authority, in the last decade, Las Vegas has removed more than 125 million square feet of grass, saving 7 billion gallons of water a year. That’s almost one-tenth of Southern Nevada’s annual water supply.

Here in Los Angeles, the new Residential Drought Resistant Landscape Incentive Program is not region-wide. It applies only to Department of Water and Power customers, and it’s not the $1.50 per square foot that Vegas residents receive. Any other catches?

The agency won’t be buying dead lawn, warns DWP spokeswoman Jane Galbraith. If you are lucky enough to live where the lawn is already dead, the water company takes the view that nature has already done the right thing for you.

But if you have 200 to 2,000 square feet of lawn that is doing little more than consuming water, then the DWP is willing to pay you to get rid of it. That includes the forlorn strip of lawn between the sidewalk and curb known as the "parkway."

Opening the DWP program to parkways makes good sense because watering with sprinklers is next to impossible there without creating runoff. Under the new drought ordinances, creating runoff is now illegal.

So instead of waiting for an inevitable ticket, homeowners can receive a rebate. The hardship is minimal: Cap the sprinklers, dig out the lawn and replace it with something smarter.

The single greatest challenge is choosing that something smarter. The rebate program requires that you have a plan for the successor landscape. Acceptable turf substitutes include drought-tolerant plants, mulch and permeable ground cover.

The department will steer participating homeowners to various gardening classes sponsored through BeWaterWise.com to help guide homeowners through the conversion process. You will find listings of Southern California dry gardening classes on this blog's event calendar and on my website, Chance of Rain.

Whatever successor landscape you choose, the intent of the cash-for-grass program is to reduce the 50 to 90 inches of water routinely applied to turf every year. Drought-tolerant substitutes may require just 15 — in keeping with L.A.’s average annual rainfall.

For information on the L.A. Department of Water and Power program, call the regional water agency rebate hotline at (888) 376-3314. The recording will say funding for regionwide programs is exhausted, but keep listening. DWP customers can press 3 for more details on their rebate.

Note: Green's column on drought-tolerant gardening will appear on this blog every week. Click on "Dry Garden" in the category cloud.

Comments () | Archives (14)

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To promote water wise landscaping in Southern California, BeWaterWise.com has a very good section on gardening - http://tr.im/o9r4 . By following these tips you can not only maintain a beautiful garden but also save gallons of water every day. Hope this info is useful!

I can't remember the last time I actually saw anyone use their lawn to sit, play, etc. May as well rip them out and replace them with either drought tolerant plants, or if you're going to water anyway, fruits and vegetables!


A reader and former MWD employee wrote me asking a good question: Does this rebate apply to homeowners who take out turf and put in artificial turf? The answer to that is no.

Additionally, for those who attempt to phone about the program, DON'T HANG UP. The first message you get concerns a vote by the Metropolitan Water District board earlier this week to suspend all new rebates until is program is audited.

What?! What indeed. Suffice it to say here that the LADWP cash-for-grass program is funded independently of Met but the customer service line is shared. So keep listening. After hearing tips for residents from a string of cities to access their local website, the recording will finally come back to the LADWP offer, and the very patient will be directed to an operator.

You may get so mad that you simply go outside and take it out on the lawn, in which case you won't get a rebate but you will get relief and the outcome will be the same.

Ah, in case anyone has minutes on their phone and lawn they want to kill, here's the contact number: 888-376-3314

I love the idea of Food Not Lawns: http://faircompanies.com/videos/view/food-not-lawns-growing-your-own-yard/ If you're going to dump water (and often pesticides) onto your yard why not make it productive.

What happens if you live in a multi-family building and your landlord insists on sprinklers that send your water rolling off the slop and down the hill? Or is this rebate just privileging single-family buildings again?

isn't that grass in the lower left of the photo? couldn't find a lawn free yard?

Yes, that is lawn in the lower left corner of the photo. I don't think the water conservation program intends to outlaw lawns; just larger expanses of the stuff. A small patch to roll on. or sit on, or dine on can be appropriate, I'd say. Especially if it is shaded in some fashion that limits the evapotranspiration.

Here in Santa Barbara we have strong water conservation rules and the landscape architects here design marvelous, interesting, and practical landscapes for residences and commercial properties. Go for it, LA !!!

The shortage of rainfall is cyclical. Tearing out one's lawn or garden so that cactus and other non-indigenous species can be planted, is a con. The rain will return and the cycle will continue. The San Fernando Valley is not a desert. The water shortage is partly due to poor water management and too many illegal aliens. Screw the DWP. Just do what you like and it will be okay. I love a large green lawn, flowering shrubbery, and my garden. Don't listen to these idiots. They're the same people who said we had an energy shortage years ago and people wouldn't even put up their Christmas lights. That lasted only long enough for them to put additional fees on our bills and it gave them windfall profits. They are up to the same thing with this water shortage BS. It's as ridiculous as the Al Gore global warming fairy tale. It's all about scamming the customers without alternatives to pillage their wallets.

Dawn, alas, the rebates are only eligible for owners of single family homes. However, observing the new water ordinances is not elective. So if you live in the City of Los Angeles and your landlord's sprinkler system is creating run-off, that's illegal. Whether or not you speak to him or her about it is a potentially prickly personal choice. However, to report it, phone 1-800-342 5397 or email waterconservationteam@ladwp.com ... according to the department head, David Nahai, the first response from the Department will be a warning, not a ticket.

Great article on green lawn. It is very useful for well take care of your lawn. By using these tips you can easily modify your old garden and keep it neat and clean.Find more details visit http://www.actglobalsports.com

I live in the South Bay and would like to replace my lawn with drought tolerant plants and grasses. Are there some reasonably priced landscape companies that would design and plant such a project. Many claim to have expertise, but I'm looking for guys that do this all day long at a reasonable cost. No doubt there are many that don't charge a premium for their "unique" project in Chandler or Phoenix Arizona -- but I need them here.

Stubby: personal invective and screeching at "the man" does nothing but make you look infantile.

As to cyclic or not: suppose the next cycle is 100 or 1000 years? Still nothing in nature's terms but a lot of pain for the people that are trying to live there.

Plus I'm assuming that you reject the notion of climate change, but in case you don't: you realise that the cycles you count on may be broken or move to a new and uncomfortable position that isn't human-friendly?

The "right" to plunder common resources for your personal pleasure ties into a very selfish view of the world IMHO...



Hey, Pasadena Water & Power! Are you going to follow the leader? I pulled up my front lawn. What about us?


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