Overwhelmed water agency considers limits on lawn rebates

Overwhelmed with requests for turf replacement rebates, the Metropolitan Water District says it is temporarily out of money for its cash-for-grass program. And as Southern Californians rush to remove thirsty lawns amid the lingering drought, the agency says it is considering new limits on turf replacement rebates.

The water district board plans to vote at a special meeting this month to increase its conservation budget by $150 million and implement new limits on rebates. The agency says it is continuing to fill its existing rebate requests on a first-come, first-served basis, but applications submitted after Tuesday, May 12, won't be funded until the new budget is approved.


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%.

On Tuesday, the water district posted a bright red notice informing interested rebate applicants of the "overwhelming" interest. The message explained that all existing funds for rebates had been committed. But the agency said it was still accepting new requests.

Water district spokesman Bob Muir said the agency has received an "unprecedented" $305 million worth of reservations for turf removal, far beyond its initial $100-million budget for the program.

Under the program, the district pays homeowners and businesses $2 per square foot to remove grass and replace it with drought-tolerant landscaping. Some cities, including Los Angeles, offer additional rebates.

"We've never seen anything like it in the 25 years we've been offering rebates," Muir said. "It's definitely sparked what we believe will hopefully evolve into a culture change."

The board is considering implementing caps on the amount applicants can request, which is currently unlimited. Among the options the board is considering is paying residential and commercial rebates of $2 per square foot for only the first 1,500 square feet. Each additional square foot, up to 1 acre in total, would net $1. Agency staff also recommended annual or lifetime rebate limits.