A guide to rebates on drought-tolerant landscaping

Interested in replacing your turf but don't know how? Read this explainer, complete with tips.

Weeks after Gov. Jerry Brown called for the removal 50 million square feet of lawn in the state, water agencies say that they are well on their way to meeting the goal.

In his State of the City address Tuesday, Mayor Eric Garcetti praised Los Angeles for its large contribution.

"Governor, today I can report that with only 10% of the state's population, Los Angeles will reach half of your entire statewide goal by the end of this year," Garcetti said.

Department of Water and Power spokeswoman Carol Tucker said that estimate was based on the "existing number of customer reservations, recent activity levels and projections of future reservations."

Since July 1, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California has paid just over $34 million in turf removal rebates. It has given the go-ahead to an additional $120 million in turf removal applications. The agency offers a rebate of $2 per square foot, which many cities have supplemented with their own rebate programs.

The DWP offers one of the highest rebates in Southern California — an additional $1.75 per square foot for residents and $1 per square foot for businesses.

About 2,600 Los Angeles residents have ripped out their lawns, along with nearly 60 companies.

"Demand is really high," said Sandra Giarde, executive director of the California Landscape Contractors Assn. "Now that we have the drought, it's no longer 'Gee, it'd be really great if we could do something about this landscaping.' Now, it's 'We need to do something about it.' "

Interested in lawn replacement but don't know where to start? Here are some tips:

How do I know if I'm eligible for a rebate?

The MWD has created a tool on its website to let you know if you qualify. You can also enter the square footage of your project for an estimate of the amount of the rebate, depending on the rate available from your water agency or city and the size of your project.

(If you don't qualify, check with your local water agency to see if it has its own program.)

The next step is figuring out if your lawn meets specifications. First, you must have live grass in your yard. Homeowners who let their turf die off are not eligible.

This may change. In January, the Los Angeles City Council's Energy and Environment Committee approved a motion urging the full council to change that requirement to include homeowners with dead or dying lawns.

The MWD has to approve any replacement project before it begins. You will need to fill out an online application and submit five photos of the turf you plan on removing as well as a copy of a recent water bill. Approval takes about two weeks.

Most programs allow only one rebate per property, even if you remove more grass later.

How long will these programs last?

That remains to be seen. Mark Gentili, a DWP water conservation supervisor, said the program is "geared to be supported to the end of the fiscal year."

What are my options for replacement?

Most programs require drought-friendly plants. The DWP requires that 40% of the area contain plants (once they reach maturity) and materials used for pathways must be permeable, such as mulch or small rocks.

The MWD has an online resource that allows users to browse images of renovated lawns, learn about plant types and find local nurseries.

Rumaldo Flores, owner of the Glassell Park-based Flores Landscaping, said lavender, rosemary, salvia and succulents are some of the most popular replacement plants.

What about artificial turf?

Check your city's rules. The MWD has no problem with artificial turf, but some cities ban it. Glendale prohibits its use completely in some areas, and in others it can only be used in the backyard, out of public view. Pasadena also does not allow it.

How much money will I get in return?

That depends on your water agency. The DWP offers residential customers $1.75 per square foot for the first 1,500 square feet, in addition to the MWD's $2 rebate.

Some cities, such as Pasadena, do not supplement MWD's payout.

Santa Monica residents, who are not eligible for MWD's rebate, can receive $3.50 per square foot but only up to $4,500 per property, or 1,285 square feet.

How soon must I complete the project?

The MWD allows 120 days. If you need more time, many agencies, including the DWP, allow for extensions.

Flores, the owner of the landscaping company, said the service generally takes a week or longer, depending on the size of the yard and the complexity of the design.

Talk to your landscaper, or do some research, so you can be realistic about how long it will take.

"We have great channels on TV that show these amazing makeovers that people do on landscapes," Giarde said. "Unfortunately, it leads folks to think the process is a little faster than it is."

How much does it cost?

Price depends on the size of the yard, landscape design and ease of access (for example, a home on a hillside may cost more than a level lot).

For a yard of about 2,000 square feet, Flores said, lawn replacement can cost about $6,000, or $3 per square foot, which includes removal, installation and irrigation. That means depending on the size of your lawn, a project could cost $2,000 to more than $10,000.

How do I claim my rebate?

MWD customers need to upload five color photos of their new yard and a copy of their water bill.

It can take up to 10 weeks for the rebate to arrive, Gentili said. During that time, an MWD contractor will inspect the finished product. If any disqualifications are found, Gentili said, the agencies can generally work with customers to allow them to fix problems and receive another review.

Once it is approved by the MWD, your local water agency usually does an inspection and has the final say.


Twitter: @taygoldenstein

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