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Leaders in Waterwise Management Help Purchase Synthetic Turf in SoCal

By: GIG CONAUGHTON – Staff Writer | Wednesday, July 11, 2007 10:47 PM PDT ?





SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA — Regional water leaders who have already urged Southern Californians to cut water use because of supply worries got even more serious this week, deciding for the first time to pay people to use fake grass instead of the real thing.

Board members of the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District voted Tuesday to immediately offer homeowners a “modest” rebate to install synthetic turf, a conservation measure that could dramatically cut outdoor water use, which makes up 50 percent to 70 percent of residential water use.

Water officials said Wednesday that they believe it is the first time any Southern California water agency is offering homeowners rebates to replace thirsty lawns — an act that made national headlines in 2002 in drought-ridden Las Vegas.

Metropolitan is Southern California’s main water supplier, serving nearly 18 million people in six counties, including San Diego County. The rebates cover the agency’s entire service area.

Metropolitan spokesman Bob Muir said the board-approved rebate for homeowners was not big — 30 cents for every square foot of turf, or between 2 percent and 3 percent of the estimated retail cost of $12 per square foot. But Muir and others said the action was significant because of the message it sends — that water agencies are trying to prod the public to cut water use any way they can.

Whenever water officials in the West talk about the ultimate commitment to conserving water, they talk about Las Vegas — which, faced with severe drought in 2002, started paying residents $1 per square foot to tear out natural grass lawns, a practice that continues.

Metropolitan, the San Diego County Water Authority and other agencies, meanwhile, have offered synthetic turf rebates to commercial groups. Poway High School used it to put in a new surface on its football field.

But agencies haven’t thought of offering “replace-your-grass” rebates to homeowners because they’re attached to the real thing, according to Metropolitan, the county Water Authority and the Association of California Water Agencies.

Southern California is facing water supply problems that could last for years, and officials say the best way to conserve more is to attack outdoor water use.

San Diego and the Los Angeles basin are in the grips of a serious single-year drought. The Colorado River, one of the region’s two main supplies of imported water, is in its eighth year of drought. The other main source of imported water, California’s State Water Project, has been shut down once this year to protect an endangered fish, the delta smelt, and could be shut down again. If that happens, Southern California probably won’t get its full supply from the State Water Project. The project delivers rainfall and snow melt from Northern California to Southern California through 600 miles of dams, reservoirs, aqueducts and the ecologically fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin bay delta.

Encinitas Mayor James Bond, a member of the Water Authority and Metropolitan boards, said he believes Metropolitan’s willingness to help sell synthetic turf represents a philosophical shift.

“I think so, and I think it’s a good one,” he said.

He also said he thought the idea of promoting synthetic turf was more prudent than offering incentives for homeowners to xeriscape — landscaping that substitutes rocks, shrubs and mulches for lawns.

“People still like green grass,” Bond said. “It’s part of the culture. And a culture shift takes time.”

Bond said he expects the agencies that buy and deliver Metropolitan’s water, including the Water Authority, would probably follow Metropolitan’s lead and offer additional synthetic turf rebates.

Water Authority spokesman John Liarakos said the agency was still studying Metropolitan’s new policy.

Muir said people who wanted more information about the turf rebate and other water conservation financial incentives, such as high efficiency sprinklers, washers and other items, should go to

– Contact staff writer Gig Conaughton at (760) 739-6696 or

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