SoCal Cash-for-Grass Program Ends Because It's Too Popular

Friday, July 10, 2015
(photo: Getty Images)

Just as Southern Californians were taking to heart Governor Jerry Brown’s entreaty that they not be too attached to their “nice little green grass” in the Age of Drought, the giant Metropolitan Water District (MWD) announced the end of its popular turf rebate program.

The program originally had $40 million to subsidize property owners willing to replace their lawns with something more drought tolerable. But in December, when it was apparent that the governor’s year-old plea for voluntary 25% cut in water use was failing, the drought was not ending and mandatory cuts were coming, the program was expanded to $100 million to meet increased demand.

Demand increased exponentially after Brown announced 25% mandatory cuts statewide in April and called for 50 million square feet of lawn to be ripped out. That would save 2 billion gallons of water a year. The program was expanded by $350 million the next month and was projected to triple the turf removal called for by Brown.

The money went fast.

“We truly believe this campaign helped push the tipping point to shift the cultural norm away from lawns and toward California Friendly® landscapes that embrace the region’s Mediterranean climate,” Metropolitan General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger said in a release announcing the program’s termination.

In other words, now that everyone knows they’re going to have to spend large sums of money to avoid big water fines, they are on their own. The program wasn’t so much a subsidy to help people whipsawed by the state’s century-long shortsighted water policy, as it was a public warning of impending disaster with gardening tips for the crispy future.

There will still be some money available from other sources to nurture the landscape changes that are inevitable unless the expected winter El Niño drowns our fears and ends the drought. For instance, Long Beach will continue to offer a $2.50-per-square-foot rebate (down from $3.50), although $2 of it was subsidized by the MWD.

Different areas have different programs. Some cities don’t want to pay for a conversion if the lawn is already dead. And in a lot of locales, that is going to be the case by the end of summer. The requirements for re-landscaping in a drought-resistant fashion also vary between areas.

MWD serves the water needs of 19 million people.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Metropolitan Water District's $340 Million “Cash-for-Grass” Program Runs Dry (by Molly Peterson, KPCC)

Long Beach Will Still Offer You Money to Rip Out Your Lawn Despite Funding Cut (by Eric Bradley, Long Beach Press-Telegram)

Southland Demand For Metropolitan Turf Rebate Program Exhausts Available Supplies (Metropolitan Water District) (pdf)

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