Citing heavy demand for fake turf and other drought-tolerant landscaping, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is considering a $350-million increase in the money it spends on conservation rebate programs.
The proposed increase is more than double what was proposed in previous recommendations and would be expected to carry the program through the fall of 2015.
The program, which pays homeowners and businesses $2 per square foot to replace grass with drought-tolerant landscaping, ran short of funds last week.
The program is on hiatus as the agency's board considers new limits and a budget increase, though applications are still being accepted. Applicants who filed after May 12 will be subject to new rules, including limits on how much landscaping the MWD will pay for.
Water district spokesman Bob Muir said the agency has received an “unprecedented” amount of reservations for turf removal. More than $330 million in reservations have been received, far more than the agency's current $100-million budget for the program.
FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this post said more than $350 million in reservations have been received; the correct figure is more than $330 million.
So far, $88.1 million has been spent on the program, according to a board letter.
"It's a matter of trying to make sure that we spread these rebates throughout Southern California for those who are making the investment," Muir said.
Previous recommendations had called for a $100-million or $150-million increase and tiered rebate rates.
The new recommendation also calls for a cap on residential $2 rebates at 3,000 square feet and decreases commercial rebate rates to $1 per square foot, with an annual limit of $25,000 per property.
The recommendation attempts to make up for the fact that the majority of requested funding is for commercial projects, though most applicants are residents.
Requests for turf rebates have exploded since Gov. Jerry Brown on April 1 announced historic drought restrictions that included a mandate to reduce urban water usage statewide by 25%.
With the new recommendation, staff estimates the amount of the additional requests will drop from $207.3 million to $93.1 million.
The recommendation also states that the agency will seek state funding for its rebate program.