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THE DRY GARDEN

DWP offers cash incentive to remove lawns

The DWP hopes to reduce water used on lawns -- by reducing the lawns.

June 13, 2009|Emily Green

Fast on the heels of the new watering ordinances that took effect June 1, the has begun a cash-for-grass program. Single-family homes served by the DWP will be eligible to receive $1 for every square foot of turf they replace with less thirsty alternatives.

For years, Southern California water managers paid scant attention to outdoor water conservation. Then they saw stunning savings achieved in Nevada. According to the Southern Nevada Water Authority, in the last decade, Las Vegas has removed more than 125 million square feet of grass, saving 7 billion gallons of water a year. That's almost one-tenth of southern Nevada's annual water supply.

Here in Los Angeles, the new Residential Drought Resistant Landscape Incentive Program reported in The Times' California Briefing last week is not regionwide. It applies only to Department of Water and Power customers, and it's not the $1.50 per square foot that they pay in Vegas. Any other caveats?

The agency won't be buying dead lawn, warns DWP spokeswoman Jane Galbraith. If the lawn is already dead, the water company takes the view that nature has already done the right thing for you.

But if you have 200 to 2,000 square feet of living lawn, then the DWP is willing to pay you to get rid of it. That includes the forlorn strip of lawn between the sidewalk and curb known as the "parkway."

Opening the DWP program to parkways makes good sense because watering with sprinklers is next to impossible there without creating run-off. Under the new drought ordinances, creating run-off is illegal.

So instead of waiting for an inevitable ticket, homeowners can receive a rebate. The hardship is minimal: Cap the sprinklers, dig out the lawn and replace it with something smarter.

The single greatest challenge is choosing that something smarter. The rebate program requires that you have a plan for the successor landscape. Acceptable turf substitutes include drought tolerant plants, mulch or permeable ground cover, but not artificial lawn.

The department will steer participating homeowners to various gardening classes sponsored through BeWaterWise.com to help guide them through the conversion process.

Whatever successor landscape you choose, the intent of the cash-for-grass program is to reduce the 50 to 90 inches of water routinely applied to turf every year. Drought-tolerant substitutes may require just 15 -- in keeping with L.A.'s average annual rainfall.

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Green's column on drought-tolerant gardening will appear weekly on the Home section's blog: latimes.com/home. She also blogs at chanceofrain.com.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Rebate hotline

For information on the L.A. Department of Water and Power program, call the regional water agency rebate hotline at (888) 376-3314. The recording will say funding for regionwide programs is exhausted, but keep listening. DWP customers can press 3 for more details on their rebate.

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