Back in 2009, LADWP started offering customers in drought-ravaged Los Angeles special rebates to replace their lawns with less water-hungry materials. At various times, depending on drought conditions and funding, the rebates have ranged from the regular price of $1.75 per square feet up to – two years ago, at the height of the drought – $3.75 per square foot. Overall, the turf-removal program has been hugely successful for DWP, LADWP Public Relations Specialist Michael Ventre told the Buzz yesterday, with a total of 48.6 million square feet of grass removed since 2009, and 1.9 billion gallons of water per year saved as a result.
When the rebates were at their highest two years ago, however, there were also some unintended consequences. Many yards wound up almost fully covered with the fastest, easiest and cheapest alternatives available – often artificial turf or gravel – and homeowners stopped watering altogether. But that meant that many remaining trees and shrubs – whose valuable shade helps protect us from other negative effects of increasing heat and dryness – were left without water and later died. (The high-rebate program also created a quick boom-and-bust lifecycle for several controversial turf-to-gravel conversion companies, such as Turf Terminators).
The funds supporting the higher rebate prices were quickly used up, however, and when the city resumed the rebates, at slightly lower prices, the there were also new rules that encouraged rainwater capture and better supported existing trees and shrubs by specifying that 50% of the new yard space must be planted with drought-tolerant greenery. Gravel coverage is now limited to 25% of the overall area, and there are no more rebates for areas converted to artificial turf (homeowners are still allowed to install it, but the rebate program no longer rewards the practice). There are also other new requirements such as “a rain capturing feature like a rain garden, rain barrel, cistern, infiltration trench, or vegetated swale,” and drip irrigation as needed. Mulch and other groundcover must also be used now to help retain moisture in the soil.
But according to Ventre, the new requirements haven’t dimmed customer enthusiasm for the rebate program. “There are many factors that dictate customer involvement,” he said, “including weather, drought messaging by various agencies, rebate amount, and time of year. Even though there have been changes in the program over the years, it has remained popular among customers.”
The latest version of the turf removal rebate program has been in effect since September of this year, offering a “sale” that increased rebate amounts from $1.75 to $2.00 per square foot of grass removed. But those prices will expire at the end of December.
Ventre said he doesn’t yet have the numbers for square feet of turf removed or water savings under the current version of the rebates (because turf removal projects can take several months to complete even after the applications are accepted by the city), but they have received more than 450 new applications since the $2 rate went into effect in September, which is a 30% increase over the same period in 2016.
Applications for the $2/square-foot rebates are still being taken…but only until Sunday, December 31. So if you’d like to apply and are enjoying a slow week between holidays, this would be a great time to do so. To get started, see the SoCal WaterSmart website. There are also more helpful links, including landscape design information, application checklists and special guidelines for parkway areas, at the DWP’s program website.
And if you’d like some more style-specific drought-tolerant landscaping suggestions, specifically compatible with our area’s historic homes, be sure to check out Your Next Front Yard, a super-helpful pamphlet from the Hancock Park Garden Club (hard copies are also available at Chevalier’s Books on Larchmont Blvd.)
Finally, if you’d like to remove all or part of your lawn, but just can’t get an application in by December 31, you don’t have to panic. According to Ventre, “The California Friendly Landscape Incentive Program is a permanent LADWP rebate program and will still be available to customers in 2018. The temporary sale raised the residential rebate amount to $2.00 per square foot. Once the sale is complete at the end of 2017, the program will return to its regular incentive of $1.75 per square foot.”
So you will have another chance to transform your yard to a more drought-tolerant landscape in 2018. It would be a great way to start the new year, and both your city and your pocketbook (after you see your new, lower water bills) will thank you.