Customer Demand Exhausts Funds for Water Authority’s Turf Replacement Program

Short Title
Customer Demand Exhausts Funds for Turf Replacement Program
Applications suspended; popular program to replace more than 1 million square feet of grass
January 08, 2015

After a successful run of more than two years, the San Diego County Water Authority’s turf replacement incentive program has stopped accepting applications because grant funds for the initiative will be exhausted by pending rebate requests. Launched in December 2012, the WaterSmart Turf Replacement Program will directly account for the replacement of more than 1 million square feet of water-intensive turf grass with low-water-use landscapes across the region.

Approximately 1,000 turf replacement projects will be funded through the program when all the money is spent, and Water Authority staff estimates these projects will save 1,350 acre-feet of water over the next 10 years – an important component of larger efforts to conserve water supplies by reducing landscape irrigation. Residents and businesses in San Diego County still can apply for turf removal rebates of $2 per square foot from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California at www.SoCalWaterSmart.com. These rebates are partly funded by the Water Authority through water rates paid to MWD.

Rebate applications for the Water Authority’s program swelled in the second half of 2014 as residents and businesses responded to calls for conservation and statewide drought conditions worsened. An average of 164 applications per month was submitted between July and December, up from approximately 30 per month in 2013 and the first half of 2014. The recent rush is expected to exhaust what’s left of $2.1 million in grants for the program from the state Department of Water Resources and the federal Bureau of Reclamation.

“Thank you to everyone in San Diego County who is embracing low-water landscapes and inspiring their friends and neighbors to do the same,” said Maureen Stapleton, general manager of the Water Authority. “These landscapes will continue saving precious water supplies and showing how beautiful a water-efficient lifestyle can be. Moving forward, we will continue to explore innovative and cost-effective water conservation programs.”

At its regular meeting on Jan. 22, the Water Authority’s Board of Directors will receive an update on the turf replacement program along with other conservation programs and efforts to develop a pilot public-private partnership designed to reduce the cost of installing artificial turf in the region.

Outdoor water use is a focal point of regional conservation efforts because about half of the water used at the typical home is for landscaping. WaterSmart landscapes can cut outdoor water use by up to 70 percent through a combination of proper plant selection and irrigation technology.Turf replacement programs are designed to help residents, businesses and public agencies mitigate costs and other obstacles to making that conversion.

The WaterSmart Turf Replacement Program was crafted to maximize the number of participants and generate the largest possible water savings. Qualifying applicants were eligible for $1.50 per square foot, up to $3,000 for homes and $9,000 for businesses.

“Our turf replacement program did exactly what it was designed to do – catalyze a market transformation at minimal cost to ratepayers,” said Jason Foster, director of public outreach and conservation for the Water Authority. “As these new landscapes mature, they will need less and less water, and that will benefit everyone during the current drought. Over many years, these landscapes will continue to help us promote water-use efficiency as a way of life in San Diego County.”

Besides turf replacement, there are many regional programs available to help customers reduce water use, including rebate programs for high-efficiency toilets, high-efficiency clothes washers and rain barrels. The Water Authority also offers free classes about installing WaterSmart landscapes, plant fairs that offer discounts on low-water-use plants, an online home water-use calculator, and the electronic flipbook “eGuide to a WaterSmart Lifestyle.” Information about conservation tools and programs is at WaterSmartSD.org.

Water conservation has taken on increasing importance since the turf replacement program started. After an extremely hot and dry 2014, the initial 2015 allocation from the State Water Project – an important water source for San Diego County – has been set at only 10 percent of requested supplies. The figure may fluctuate up or down depending on precipitation over the next few months. State officials said it would take a series of storms delivering well-above-average amounts of rain and snow statewide over the next few months to pull California out of drought.

The Water Authority’s Board has declared a Drought Alert condition calling for mandatory water conservation measures. Restrictions vary by member agency. For information about water-use rules by community, along with details about drought conditions and conservation-related resources, go to www.whenindrought.org.