The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has revised the rules for its wildly popular turf removal rebate program, and the utility's decision could mark a dramatic shift in the way the city's drought-tolerant landscapes look and function. The biggest change? No more cash for fake grass.
Last month the Board of Water and Power Commissioners voted to eliminate the rebate for artificial turf installation as part of an overhaul of the program to focus not just on saving water, but being smarter about using it.
That means capturing rainwater and letting it soak into the ground rather than shunting stormwater into the gutters, where it ferries trash and pollutants to the ocean. That means incorporating more plants that provide habitat for bees, birds and other wildlife. And it means discouraging plastic grass that retains heat and doesn't hold water like healthy soil does. This is especially important, given researchers' warnings that climate change could double or even triple the number of extreme heat days in some Los Angeles communities. Homeowners can still install artificial turf in place of sod; they just can't get reimbursed for it under the Cash in Your Lawn program.
Besides removing artificial turf from the $1.75-per-square-foot rebates, the program now requires that property owners cover 50% of the converted area with drought-tolerant plants (up from 40%) and limit gravel and rock to no more than 25% of the area (down from 60%). And the yard would have to be designed to capture rain — that can be as sophisticated as installing an underground tank to hold rainwater or as low-tech as digging trenches around plants to let rain soak into the roots and the soil. Mayor Eric Garcetti has said that half of the city's water should come from local sources by 2035, and retaining water on site and letting it soak into the ground helps replenish the region's natural underground aquifers.
The changes reflect a welcome evolution in how Los Angeles leaders and the public are thinking about water. Los Angeles residential and commercial property owners have removed 46 million square feet of grass since the rebate program was started in 2009. Going forward, if ratepayers are going to subsidize landscaping (and we still think they should), then they should get the maximum benefit. That means transforming yards into landscapes that are more than just drought-tolerant, but can also help boost the region's water supply, provide wildlife habitat and help cool an increasingly hot city.