Environment & Science

Demand outstrips funding for Metropolitan lawn rebates (but you can still apply)

A woman works among drought-tolerant plants in her front yard in this Wednesday, July 9, 2014, file photo taken in San Diego. “Cash for grass” programs encourage customers to replace thirsty grass lawns with drought-tolerant plants. They aren't new, but the The Metropolitan Water District calls the recent level of interest in its program “unprecedented.”
A woman works among drought-tolerant plants in her front yard in this Wednesday, July 9, 2014, file photo taken in San Diego. “Cash for grass” programs encourage customers to replace thirsty grass lawns with drought-tolerant plants. They aren't new, but the The Metropolitan Water District calls the recent level of interest in its program “unprecedented.”
Gregory Bull/AP

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In one recent week, Southern Californians applied for $48 million in rebates for lawns. “Cash for grass” programs have been around in some form since at least a couple of droughts ago, but the Metropolitan Water District calls this level of interest in its current program “unprecedented.” 

The program incentivizes customers to replace their turf grass lawns with drought-tolerant plants, and it has been so successful, the district is having trouble keeping up.

Reservations have dwarfed the budget for rebates since last year; they’re currently four times the size of the $100 million program itself. And while not all those reservations get paid out (around a third of applicants drop out before the end), “we’re near the end of our actual funding at this point,” says Bob Muir, spokesman for the Metropolitan Water District. 

Atop the SoCal WaterSmart rebate page in striking red letters this week, Metropolitan officials told homeowners exactly that:

Scary red letters aside, Muir suggests the problem is temporary. Metropolitan’s regional board is slated to vote later this month “to make sure rebates continue to be available to homeowners, business and public agencies,” he says. The board will consider adding $150 million to the rebate program at that time.

Leimert Park resident Stan Smith recently replaced his lawn, using the services of Turf Terminators and plants he picked himself from a nursery. He says he couldn’t ignore climate change or the looming threat of tighter watering restrictions any longer.

“I thought I’d just get in front of it and do the responsible thing,” Smith says. “And I’m excited because I have color and texture rather than just a solid green slab.”

If you want to apply, we’ve already put together some pretty comprehensive information elsewhere on our site, including how well lawn rebates work locally.

In a nutshell:

The new rules, which could apply to applications submitted after Tuesday this week, include lifetime funding limits for properties, so that homeowners and others would have to decide all at once whether to replace front, back, and side lawns, rather than submit multiple rebate applications. Program managers also intend to expand funding for larger properties, so that people could submit rebates for up to an acre at a time. But those rebates could be tiered, so that the incentive is smaller above 1,500 square feet.

Metropolitan’s Muir says the idea is to make the project as wide-ranging and sustainable as possible.

“The goal we’re trying to do here is transform the California landscape,” Muir says. “We’re trying to shift the cultural norm when it comes to the California landscape.”