Funding for SoCal Lawn Replacement Rebate Program Runs Out

Some SoCal water agencies will continue to offer their own rebates.

A popular water-saving rebate program that subsidized the cost of replacing lawns with more drought-friendly plants has run out of funding, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California said Wednesday.

All funding for the agency's turf removal program has been allocated after applications far exceeded the state’s $450 million water conservation budget.

The program was the largest of its kind in the nation and in May was even increased by $350 million following Gov. Jerry Brown’s call to decrease water usage by 25 percent. Residents flocked to apply for funds, quickly draining the coffers.

The agency, which imports water from the Colorado River and Northern California for 26 cities and water agencies in six counties, had expected that the funding for the program would run out by the end of the year.

"We knew that the popularity of the turf program would exhaust the available funds at some point, but even we didn’t predict just how popular turf rebates would become," MWD General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger said in a written statement. "Metropolitan is proud to have accelerated the movement by hundreds of thousands of Southern Californians to embrace a new outdoor aesthetic and lock in water savings permanently."

The program funded turf removal projects by subsidizing $2 of every square foot of grass removed, up to $6,000 for residential properties; and $1 per square foot up to $25,000 for commercial properties in an effort to encourage Californians to replace lawns with more drought-friendly plants, gravel, mulch and even AstroTurf.

The program is estimated to fund the removal of more than 150 million square feet of turf, three times the statewide goal set by the governor.

Any projects approved through Thursday will be completed, and interested applicants will be placed on a waiting list in the event that any of those approved projects do not move forward, the agency said.

Rebates are still available for other water-saving measures such as high-efficiency washers, toilets, weather-based irrigation and rotating sprinkler nozzles.

Following the announcement, Long Beach Water said that it will continue to provide funding for $2.50 per square foot for up to 1,000 feet of residential turf removal projects, and $1 per square foot for commercial, industrial and institutional turf replacement projects through its Lawn-to-Garden program.

The Castaic Lake Water Agency in Santa Clarita, the Coachella Valley Water District, and the San Bernardino Water Department were all still offering their own turf removal rebate programs as of Thursday evening.

Meanwhile, the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District in Calabasas announced Thursday that funding for its "Mow No More" turf replacement program had been exhausted and the program would end.

Riverside County’s turf replacement rebate program was closed to new applicants July 1.

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