Fighting Drought One Lawn at a Time: LADWP’s Cash In Your Lawn Program

One hundred percent of California is now in a severe drought, and Los Angeles County is even worse off, classified by the United States Drought Monitor  as in “extreme drought” conditions. Now, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) is calling on Angelenos to do their part to conserve water—and as an incentive, they’ve upped their turf replacement rebate from $2 per square foot to $3.

To understand why turf replacement is such a huge deal, it’s helpful to think about how we use our water and where it comes from. Roughly 50% of our water isn’t even used as drinking water—instead, it goes to outdoor uses like watering our yards, many of which are covered in turf. This makes landscape water the ideal place to cut our water usage. For decades, the City of Los Angeles has imported most of our water: upwards of 85% of the water we consume comes from distant sources like the Colorado River. On top of straining those distant watersheds, importing water is our state’s largest use of electricity. This exacerbates climate change, which leaves us especially vulnerable to drought conditions and other uncertainties.

The amount of water necessary to keep an average-sized (that’s 3,000 square feet) turfed yard alive for five years is 265,500 gallons. That’s an enormous amount of water: in comparison, the amount of water needed to care for one tree for five years is 1,055 gallons. That means each yard could be growing 251 trees with the same amount of water it takes to maintain turf.

Now, 251 trees is probably a bit much for the typical yard. But what this does mean is that if we replaced all the turf throughout the city with trees and climate appropriate plants, we would be able to conserve a tremendous amount of water and energy: the water budget for that same 3,000-square-foot yard drops from 53,000 gallons to 12,700 gallons per year when you replace the turf with native and climate-appropriate plants. That’s a 75% reduction in water usage—and it still allows us to create and maintain green spaces in our yards and throughout the city. By ending our dysfunctional love affair with turf, we’ll be able to use our water much more wisely so that it will last for generations to come.

See why actions like turf removal are so important now? And things like LADWP’s $3-per-square-foot Cash In Your Lawn program make it even easier—and affordable!—to save water. To take advantage of the program, you’ll need to pre-apply for a rebate and have your plan approved before starting your turf replacement project. LADWP will rebate up to 2,000 square feet of lawn replacement—that means you can get up to $6,000 for contributing to LA’s water security!

If you grew up with a lawn and that’s what you’re used to, it can be hard to picture ways to make a liveable, turf-free space. But with native plants and climate appropriate species, you can construct a landscape that naturally fits the conditions of our environment and takes far less maintenance than the standard lawn. To learn how, join us at TreePeople headquarters for one of our Community Sustainability Workshops, especially our turf reduction class!

Through their California Friendly landscaping incentive program, launched in 2009, LADWP has enabled Los Angeles to save 250 million gallons of water through the replacement of 8 million square feet of turf. But we can do more, and we need to do more—and taking advantage of the Cash In Your Lawn program is one way you can help.

By Elizabeth Weinberg

Elizabeth Weinberg is TreePeople's Social Media Specialist, a DC-based writer, and a lover of trees.