That was fast: The city has run out of money to reimburse residents who replace thirsty lawns with drought-resistant plants, but there are still some options for anyone looking for a rebate and to reduce outdoor watering.
The city’s turf replacement rebate program, which Mayor Kevin Faulconer pushed earlier this month, ran out of money Wednesday. The rebates were designed to help the city save water during the drought. About 350 residential and commercial water customers applied for the rebates, which became available April 15. About half the water used by single-family homes in the city ends up being used outdoors.
A similar rebate program San Diego County Water Authority ran out of money several months ago after a two-year run. Both the city and county water agencies are looking for more money.
The last major rebate program standing, for now, is offered by the Metropolitan Water District, the Los Angeles-based supplier that delivers water across Southern California, still has rebates available for San Diego-area water customers. Some smaller water districts in the county might also have some rebate money available for their customers.
Even without rebates or tearing up grass and other plants, residents can save water.
In the city, about a quarter of the water used on outdoor plants may be wasted, said Stephen Heverly, the managing director of Equinox Center, a think tank that studies water use.
“People are overwatering their landscaping without even knowing,” Heverly said. (That’s saying nothing of the people who aim for the lawn but water the sidewalk.)
A typical home sprinkler system is set to go off for 10 minutes, three times a week, said Lynlee Austell-Slayter, a San Diego County master gardener and sustainable landscape expert. That type of watering is “basically recreating Hawaii,” Austell-Slayter said.
Some plants need only about half the water they receive, she said. Some ornamental trees can go weeks without water.
So, to cut outdoor water use in half, people could instead water for 15 minutes once a week. Austell-Slayter said to do that, people should set their sprinklers on five-minute intervals a half hour apart in the morning, so the sprinklers would go off at 6 a.m., 6:30 a.m. and 7 a.m. The 25 minutes between the end and beginning of each watering is to let the soil absorb the water.
Some users opt for artificial turf, something the city added to its rebate program, though the artificial turf was only supposed to cover three-quarters of a customer’s lawn.
But Austell-Slayter isn’t a fan of fake grass.
“Having wall-to-wall carpet in your front yard is not the best for the community because you’re not feeding any birds or bees or microbes,” she said.
The city’s rebate program had $750,000 when it opened last week, said water department spokeswoman Robyn Bullard. It paid up to $3,600 for residential customers and $15,000 to commercial customers, irrigation customers and multi-family sites. The money came from a combination of city sources. The mayor has asked for $200,000 to fund turf rebates in the coming budget year, which begins in July. There will be no waiting list for the next round of rebates. Residents have to get city approval before they tear up their grass to qualify, Bullard said. An earlier round of rebates also ran out of money last year.
Metropolitan’s separate program started with $100 million, has paid out about $73 million and has outstanding requests for about $290 million in rebates, said spokesman Bob Muir. He said the water district’s board is expected to put more money into the program so it can keep offering rebates.
As of January, about 60 percent of Metropolitan’s rebates had gone to commercial customers, according to the L.A. Times. A similar figure was not yet available from the city.