Between water shortages and heat waves, the cost and difficulty of maintaining a healthy lawn in California have never been greater. A new statewide initiative seeks to help homeowners move away from grass for good –– and make money in the process.
The Golden State’s new Turf Replacement Program encourages Californians to tear out their lawns and replace their grass with more drought-tolerant plants that require far less water than a standard lawn. The payout rate of the rebate program varies from city to city, but the baseline is $2 or more per square foot, for up to 5,000 square feet –– so even the lowest rebate rate could yield up to $10,000.
Each Turf Replacement yard must meet four criteria to receive the payout. Each yard project must plant at least three California Friendly plants per 100 square feet. The yard must also include a “stormwater retention feature” that keeps rainfall within the boundaries of your property –– examples include rain barrels and rock gardens.
Additionally, each yard must be designed around “permeable hardscapes” that let water flow throughout the surface before absorbing it into the ground. Lastly, the parameters require each yard to switch from traditional overhead spray sprinklers to more efficient methods of irrigation, such as drip systems. The basics of the program are outlined on waterwise.com.
The process of renovating your yard requires two separate applications, which can both be found on the SoCalWater$mart website.
The first application, which should be submitted before you start your turf replacement, will grant you a rebate reservation and calculate the total payout you can expect when the project is complete.
The second application, which should be sent after the new yard is complete, is to approve the work you’ve done and grant your rebate. It’s important to note that after the first application is approved, you will only have 180 days to carry out the project and submit the second application, so don’t drag your feet on any step in the process!
Even without a rebate, replacing your grass with drought-tolerant alternatives is a great way to save money on water and improve your local environment.
Grass is the most irrigated crop in the United States –– in the early 2000s, the total area of grass in the country totaled around 63,000 square miles, which is bigger than the entire state of Georgia.
Lawn maintenance tends to make up the majority of the average household water bill –– up to 75%.
Bill McDonnell, senior resource specialist for Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District, explains this phenomenon: “Each one of your sprinkler heads is like a shower. You might have 15 or 20 sprinklers in your front yard. That’s 15 or 20 showers going off. That’s why we focus on outdoors (for water conservation).”
One great alternative to grass lawns is rewilding your yard, which prioritizes native plants that help heal local ecosystems and save water. Companies like Yardzen specialize in rewilding initiatives nationwide. Californians can also find landscaping experts on the Turf Restoration Project website.
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