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Southland water district OKs $350 million more for lawn-replacement rebates

Metropolitan Water District approves $350 million more for lawn-removal rebates

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California on Tuesday voted to increase funding for its turf-removal program, as more and more residents and businesses swap water-guzzling lawns for more drought-tolerant landscaping.

The MWD will boost its turf-replacement budget by $350 million for one year, but will also change certain terms and conditions of the extremely popular program.

The district voted to cap the total reimbursement for residential customers at $6,000, paying $2 per square foot of lawn removed.

Previously there was no square footage limit.

Although commercial properties made up a small portion of total applications, they have accounted for a majority of the rebates. Because of this, the MWD voted to reduce commercial rebates to $1 per square foot up to a maximum reimbursement of $25,000.

The residential rebate program's original $100-million budget was depleted this month due to a surge in demand, officials said.

So far, the MWD has received more than $330 million in applications for rebates. While not everyone who submits an application completes the rebate process, officials said it was clear that current funding was inadequate.

Application submissions increased dramatically after Gov. Jerry Brown ordered a 25% reduction in urban water use last month.

During the summer months, outdoor water use traditionally accounts for 50% to 80% of residential consumption. The MWD estimates that removing one square foot of grass can save 42 gallons of water a year.

The MWD is a consortium of 26 cities and water districts that provides drinking water to nearly 19 million people in parts of Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.

Not all members are thrilled by the turf-replacement program.

Earlier this month, Keith Lewinger and three members of the San Diego County Water Authority wrote a letter opposing an increase in funding, arguing that the program was unsustainable.

"We can't buy our way out of the drought by removing turf," Lewinger told the agency. "We just can't afford it."

But other agencies argue that the rebates are a crucial tool for water conservation. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power gives residents $1.75 per square foot on top of the MWD's rebate.

"LADWP is concerned about any major reductions in funding that may impact the viability of the turf-replacement program," said spokeswoman Michelle Figueroa. "This program greatly supports the governor's call to reduce water use and assist local water agencies in meeting their water-use targets."

Twitter: @taygoldenstein, @montemorin

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