Bay Area residents taking advantage of rebates for drought tolerant landscapes

OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - Water districts want to pay you to get rid of your water-wasting lawn.

Just about all of the water utilities and districts in the Bay Area have some sort of lawn conversion rebate program. The programs encourage homeowners and businesses to switch over to drought-tolerant landscapes.

The number of people saying goodbye to their green grass under the programs has reached record numbers.

"Very busy. We've been swamped," said Jessica Woodard, a water conservation technician with East Bay Municipal Utility District.

On Tuesday Woodard was paying a visit to Oakland homeowner, Vicky Friedman's home, to take some measurements of her lawn and learn about her landscaping plans.

Friedman told Woodard she would like to eliminate her lawn and instead use drought tolerant plants. Friedman is one of nearly 400 East Bay MUD customers applying for the water district's lawn rebate program.

"I looked at this thing, we used to need a lawn area for my kids to play on, but we certainly don't need that anymore," Friedman said.

East Bay MUD will give homeowners 50 cents for every square foot of lawn they get rid of - up to $2,500.

"We don't want any artificial turf. We don't want them to pave over it," Woodard explained about some of the program's criteria.

Technicians like Woodard come to make sure the customers actually have a lawn to convert, then take some measurements. Customers have six months to finish the switch to a drought-tolerant landscape. Their rebate comes in the form of a credit on their future water bills.

"It was depressing to come see the grass dying, and say, oh, we have to replace it. We don't have to worry about that now. It looks great," said Oakland homeowner Mirtha Ninayahuar.

Ninayahuar and her husband got rid of their 200 square foot front lawn last fall. They spent about $400 on their drought-tolerant patio, and East Bay MUD provided a list of the plants they couldn't use to qualify under the program.

They got a $100 rebate back and cut their monthly water use by 15 percent.

Last year East Bay MUD customers converted 530,000 square feet of lawn to drought tolerant landscape.

This year the water district's expecting to more than double that number and help customers say goodbye to more than 1.4 million square feet of grass.

While East Bay MUD will give customers 50 cents per square foot, other districts are more generous with their incentive program.

A look at water districts' rebate programs

  • Santa Clara Water District will pay customers $2 dollars per square foot
  • Homeowners in Palo Alto and Morgan Hill get $3 per square foot
  • Santa Clara Water District increased the rebate from $1 to $2 in January 2014. It includes any lawn, front or back, commercial or residential, up to $50,000 per site. The program also includes swimming pools.
  • Contra Costa Water District also pays $2 per square foot up to $1,000 for residential customers and $5,000 for commercial customers. The program can be used for front lawns only, not backyards. They also have a program where customers can get two hours of free professional landscape design assistance to help plan their project.
  • Alameda Water District's program pays $1 per square foot, up to $1,500 for single-family homes and up to $20,000 for multi-family complexes. The program applies to customers' front lawns only and a certain percentage of their turf must be replaced with drought tolerant landscaping.

Some of the water districts also have separate, smaller rebate programs for customers who replace their sprinkler system with drip irrigation and other more water-efficient equipment. In some cases, customers don't have to eliminate their entire lawn to comply - they can do a partial lawn conversion and still get some money for it.