The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California has paid millions to residents and businesses to rip out turf from Oxnard to San Diego. Between late January 2014 and June 16, 2015, the district paid $56.7 million to replace nearly 30 million square feet of grass. The money went to 15,000 residents and businesses, many of which received additional rebate funds from their local water supplier.
Intended to reduce water demand during the state’s historic drought, the turf rebate program spread like wildfire as Gov. Jerry Brown called for conservation and as businesses realized they could get a healthy sum for changing their landscaping.
The data release gives the first snapshot of where the initial payments of a roughly $340 million rebate program went.
Residential customers proved very willing to give up their lawns; they received about 70 percent of the rebates and removed an equal proportion of turf, with an average project size of 1,500 square feet. Commercial customers — from school districts to homeowners associations to golf courses — made up the rest. The average commercial removal was 16,000 square feet, or a quarter of a football field. Los Angeles and San Diego, the region’s two largest cities, comprised about 20 percent of all residential rebates. Of the top 10 areas with the most residential rebates awarded, the hot, dry San Fernando Valley communities had four.
The cities with the largest share of commercial takers were in San Diego County, except for Glendale, which saw the single largest rebate. There, the Oakmont Country Club received $2.3 million to replace 1.2 million square feet of “ornamental” turf. The Rose Bowl Operating Company in Pasadena received a $508,600 payment.
Some parts of Southern California have parched groundwater basins that replenish during rains, and the new ground surfaces could affect how much reaches the aquifers, experts say. Some options for replacement, such as decomposed granite, are less permeable than turf.
But the enthusiastic response to the program drained the MWD coffers, and the rebate program was put on hold. After further analysis the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California announced the shut down its artificial turf removal rebate program for residents.
In some cities, local water providers are still offering rebates.