Environment & Science

As Metropolitan's lawn rebate program dries up, cities scramble to keep cash incentives flowing

The turf outside this Pasadena home was transformed into a drought-friendly yard using the Metropolitan Water District's Cash for Grass program in October 2014. The $450 million water conservation program has now ran out of money.
The turf outside this Pasadena home was transformed into a drought-friendly yard using the Metropolitan Water District's Cash for Grass program in October 2014. The $450 million water conservation program has now ran out of money.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
The turf outside this Pasadena home was transformed into a drought-friendly yard using the Metropolitan Water District's Cash for Grass program in October 2014. The $450 million water conservation program has now ran out of money.
The turf outside this Pasadena home was transformed into a drought-friendly yard using the Metropolitan Water District's Cash for Grass program in October 2014. The $450 million water conservation program has now ran out of money.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
The turf outside this Pasadena home was transformed into a drought-friendly yard using the Metropolitan Water District's Cash for Grass program in October 2014. The $450 million water conservation program has now ran out of money.
The turf outside this Pasadena home was transformed into a drought-friendly yard using the Metropolitan Water District's Cash for Grass program in October 2014. The $450 million water conservation program has now ran out of money.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
The turf outside this Pasadena home was transformed into a drought-friendly yard using the Metropolitan Water District's Cash for Grass program in October 2014. The $450 million water conservation program has now ran out of money.
The turf outside this Pasadena home was transformed into a drought-friendly yard using the Metropolitan Water District's Cash for Grass program in October 2014. The $450 million water conservation program has now ran out of money.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
The turf outside this Pasadena home was transformed into a drought-friendly yard using the Metropolitan Water District's Cash for Grass program in October 2014. The $450 million water conservation program has now ran out of money.
The turf outside this Pasadena home was transformed into a drought-friendly yard using the Metropolitan Water District's Cash for Grass program in October 2014. The $450 million water conservation program has now ran out of money.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC


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Unprecedented demand for incentives to rip out lawns has drained nearly $340 million from Metropolitan Water District’s (MWD) conservation budget. The agency says it has spent nearly all of the incentive money: applications closed at 12:59 PM Thursday, 11 hours earlier than Metropolitan said they would yesterday. 

That’s got cities and homeowner scrambling to respond.  We're here to help with answers to some questions you may have.

HOW MUCH MONEY DID MWD ALLOCATE?

About six weeks ago, Metropolitan’s board of directors boosted its total conservation budget to $450 million; according to Metropolitan spokesman Bob Muir, about $60 million of that is for various equipment-related rebates, leaving the vast majority of it, some $390 million, for turf removal incentives.

Until the drought, Metropolitan was averaging around $20 million in “cash for grass” funding.

IF I DIDN'T APPLY FOR A MWD REBATE, AM I OUT OF LUCK?

It’s hard to tell. The program’s not actually closed yet; Metropolitan says it will also be building a “wait list” in the event existing applications fail to qualify, or homeowners and businesses fail to rip out lawns and replace them with drought-tolerant landscaping.

Check Metropolitan's website for the latest.

WHAT ARE MY OTHER OPTIONS?

Some cities are operating their own rebate programs in conjunction, or separately from MWD.   The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power says it’s “working quickly on a plan to continue the portion of the rebate that was funded through its own Water Conservation budget in order to continue to support conversion to California friendly landscaping while at the same time not jeopardizing other critical water programs.”  LADWP has kicked in for $1.50 a square foot of lawn to date.

Los Angeles, like most cities, has directed its customers to apply to Metropolitan’s SoCalWaterSmart portal for rebates. When that portal closes, LA may establish its own application process, but DWP officials say the details aren’t worked out yet.   

The city of Long Beach has it a little easier, because it runs its own program; customers there apply to Long Beach, not Metropolitan, for rebates, and the city obtains Metropolitan’s $2 contribution per square foot in bulk.

Long Beach Water's general manager Kevin Wattier says the rebate program will continue. In response to the end of Metropolitan's funding, Long Beach will boost its own contribution by a dollar, meaning that the $2.50 the city plans to pay out for every square foot of turf removed is now the biggest in the region.

"Our commitment is to always have a program, not to turn it on or turn it off for droughts or politics or funding or whatever," he says. "We believe that this is a long term culture change program, and we’re a long way from changing the culture of 19 million southern Californians." 

Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the amount of money spent on the turf removal program. The MWD spent $340 million, not $390 million as originally posted.