Lose the Turf, Help the Environment

You don’t need in the middle of a historic drought to make the “water wise” choice of swapping out grass for something more ecologically sensible.

The Metropolitan Water District (MWD’s) Turf Replacement Program is a win-win for the customer and the environment, and the district even supplies rebate incentives to make the decision that much more enticing. (MWD will receive the Ethical Partners for Public Good Award at the 2nd annual Labor 411 Foundation’s Blue Tie Gala June 6.)

“There are usually areas in both commercial or residential properties where there’s grass just to be a green square,” said Bill McDonnell, manager of water efficiency for MWD, “and it’s mowed 52 times a year and is creating a lot of green waste and using quite a bit of water and pesticides and fertilizer and it doesn’t really create any bio-diversity. When you finish your project, you could have 15 different kinds of plants.”

The program launched in 2008 at with rebates of 30 cents per square foot and increased to $1 per square foot in 2013 and $2 per square foot during the height of the drought in 2014 and 2015. The new program launched in 2018 again at $1 per square foot before going back to $2 per square foot on April 1 of this year.

MWD started the Turf Replacement program as an effort to promote water use reduction and sustainability. Following the success of other incentive programs focusing on landscaping and turf grass removal, the Turf Replacement program combines turf removal, irrigation modification and rainwater retention or filtration to support the reuse or soil absorption of rainwater.

Residents – or business owners – that take advantage of the program get three plants per every 100 square feet of area that they transform. They also receive stormwater retention capability and the replacement or modification of overhead spray sprinklers.

According to McDonnell, some customers are using landscape designers to transform their new yards while others are tackling the redesign themselves. Customers have also partnered with nurseries that will provide design assistance for those who buy the plants at the nursery.

The program is open to both residential and commercial property. With the MWD’s $2 per square foot rebate for up to 5,000 square feet plus additional rebates being offered by local agencies, customers have been tackling more than one project. Instead of just the front yard, for example, they may elect to do a backyard or side area as well.

“We do have limits on it, so you’re not going to be taking out 25 acres of turf on a golf course or something,” said McDonnell. “But if you’re a city, you can take out an acre of turf in a park or do some median strips, or a school. It can be enough of a size where you can do a significant project but not so big that you’re going to drain the bank on us.”

MWD’s service area stretches from Oxnard to the Mexican border, encompassing some 19 million customers. The program is available to “basically everybody in southern California,” said McDonnell.

“The key thing is to start thinking about it,” he continued. “If you’re not using your back yard or your side yard, start thinking about what you want to do. You’re going to be using 50 to 70 percent less water, plus you’re going to get more use out of it. It should be a win-win for everybody.”

For more information on the MWD Turf Replacement program, click here.

An L.A. area home before undergoing turf replacement

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