Environment & Science

Popularity of turf rebates brings crackdown on lawn fraud

You may be able to earn money from your water district for replacing your lawn with a drought-friendly yard. But first, you'll need to get that lawn approved.
You may be able to earn money from your water district for replacing your lawn with a drought-friendly yard. But first, you'll need to get that lawn approved.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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The Metropolitan Water District says if your lawn is brown or dead, you are eligible for its turf rebate program. This means you'll get money back for each square foot of lawn converted to a drought-friendly yard.

But the program has gotten so popular that some local districts who dole out that money are changing their application rules.  

"We have had a number of instances where people have sent in what, to them, may have appeared to be a lawn, but it's a bunch of weeds that haven't been watered in a while, said Tim Barr, deputy director of water resources at the Western Municipal Water District, which serves parts of Riverside County. "That doesn't meet the criteria for eligibility."

He said with the increase in applicants, there has also been a rise in lawn fraud. So in his district, they don't give rebates on lawns that haven't been watered in one or two years. 

"This program is designed to save water, not to reward someone for installing a new landscape," he said. 

California American Water, which serves parts of Los Angeles and San Diego counties, has similar rules. Spokesman Brian A. Barreto said the lawn must be dormant or living to get the rebate. 

"A customer is not eligible if their lawn is not living at the time that the application goes in," he said.

This means some brown and yellow patches are OK. But if it's all brown, that's not going to fly. 

There simply isn't enough money to go around. And as more and more people apply, water districts are evolving with the demand.