Metropolitan Water District's $340 million 'cash-for-grass' program runs dry

"Cash-for-grass" claims from Southern California homeowners averaged $10 to $12 million a week since the MWD program was increased in May.
"Cash-for-grass" claims from Southern California homeowners averaged $10 to $12 million a week since the MWD program was increased in May. Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

Southern California residents have taken so much cash to take out so much grass that the Metropolitan Water District's water conservation program is out of money.

Since December, MWD has set aside $450 million to encourage Southern Californians to conserve water, $340 million of which went to the lawn rebate program.

After Gov. Jerry Brown called for more cutbacks statewide, public demand for the turf rebate program soared 20-fold, according to the MWD.

Just six weeks ago board members voted to triple the amount of money available for the "cash-for-grass" program. They also capped how much any individual homeowner or business could get in order to make the program sustainable as the drought goes on.

So what happened?

"Good things happened!" said Bill McDonnell, Water Efficiency Manager for the MWD. "The thing is when you serve 19 million people and people have the same landscapes as they've had since 1950, there's a lot of landscapes to be changed."

Claims have come in at the rate of $10 to $12 million per week since May.  On Wednesday, the district said all the money alloted has now been spoken for.  McDonnell admits it's a surprise, but he says Southern California will replace 170 million square feet of lawn.  That's three times what the governor asked the whole state to do.

McDonnell also says the program will save enough water for 160,000 families. As for whether the program will continue next year – that and other questions will be taken up at MWD's next board meeting – next week.

Clarification: An earlier version of this post misstated the amount of money spent on the turf removal program. The total amount was $340 million, not $450 million. 

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