Homeowners getting paid to tear out their lawns

Communities where water is scarce are offering incentives to use alternatives to grass as landscaping.

By Bruce Kennedy Aug 12, 2013 2:34PM

Drought-resistant landscaping beside a path in San Jose, Calif. (© Environmental Images/Universal Images Group/Rex Features)Are you ready to give up grass on your front lawn? For a lot of Americans, the care and maintenance of a soft, beautiful and uniformly green lawn is a birthright -- no matter what part of the country you live in.

But that mindset may be slowly evolving, as more communities, especially in the water-parched Southwest, use a carrot-and-stick approach to get people to rip out their Kentucky bluegrass and other water-reliant grasses, and replace them with native turf, cacti and other drought-resistant succulents.

The "stick" part of this equation is well-known, especially to people living in areas with drought restrictions: escalating fines and other penalties for residents discovered using too much water. But many communities are also getting results by financially rewarding those who replace that constantly thirsty grass with other landscaping.

The New York Times ran a story Sunday about such conservation efforts in California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas and other states where water demand is rising and water itself is a very valuable commodity. In Los Angeles, for example, it noted that since 2009 the city has paid homeowners over $1.4 million to get rid of grassy lawns.

But the article says Las Vegas has undergone the most radical change when it comes to local greenery. The Las Vegas Valley Water District, responding to a devastating drought in 2003, came up with what's thought to be the nation's first "turf removal rebate program." In the ensuing decade, the district has paid out close to $200 million to redevelop close to 166 million square feet of previously grass-covered land at homes and businesses.

The rebate rules are strict, however. Watering is very limited, and according to The Times, homeowners who agree to the rebate "must sign a deed restriction stating that even if the property were to be sold, grass could not be reinstalled unless the new owner paid back the rebate, with interest."

Officials say the program is working, even though the population in metro Las Vegas continues to grow. The Water District has saved over 9 billion gallons of water over the past 10 years, while water use in southern Nevada has dropped by a third.

"The era of the lawn in the West is over," Paul Robbins, the director of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin, told The Times. "The water limits are insurmountable, unless the Scotts Company develops a genetically modified grass that requires almost no water. And I'm sure it's keeping them up at night."

Scotts Miracle-Gro (SMG) -- one of the giants in the lawn industry -- is indeed working on new grasses that are less thirsty but still look and feel like the lawns many Americans know and love.

More on moneyNOW

Aug 12, 2013 3:46PM
I live in a part of the country where water is plentiful.  However, there is even a push here to dump lawns.  I'm all for it. I hate my lawn.  Water, fertilizer, lime, thatch aerate, too much $$ and time. We have had a few people in my neighborhood do just that, dumped their lawns.  They went to a natural landscape and when done properly, it looks good!  Now I just have to convince my wife, she likes grass...
Aug 12, 2013 4:56PM
We have some lawn left, all native plants and whatever grass survived us, but most of our yard has been given over to vegetable gardens and fruit trees/bushes. Can't tell you how incredible the savings has been.
Aug 13, 2013 6:54PM

I live in Corpus Christi in a new sub division.  I wanted to zero scape.  Guess what?  In spite of water restrictions, the HOA (Home Owners Association currently controlled by the developer) of my subdivision requires that I have grass in my front yard and keep it watered.  Is this insane or what?????


Aug 12, 2013 5:08PM
I like this idea and think many of those who are just starting out with a new house and with bare ground should seriously consider this plan.... it will look nice and save many hours of time and $$$ dollars for the green look. 
Aug 12, 2013 5:23PM
All the more reason to STOP immigration.  We have limited resources and yet we let millions and millions of people come in to take up more of these limited resources.  Cities continue to issue housing permits, constructing more houses in areas that can't support the current population.  Why?
Aug 12, 2013 5:17PM
I live in the desert in Southern CA.  I had a small patch of grass in the backyard but I took it out because of the cost.  i.e. PCP irrigation pipes maintenance and replacement, sprinkler heads maintenance and replacement, Gardner, scalping the lawn once a year and reseeding ($500.00),  $100.00 a month water bill, and $500.00 a year trimming fruit trees in back yard.  I replaced it all with desert landscaping.  Saved over $3000.00 a year and got a rebate from the city for saving water.
Aug 12, 2013 4:08PM
Water is plentiful in my area, too - at least this year - and I would give up having a grass lawn if my neighbors would approve.  But you can't pave over that much ground without creating serious run off and flooding problems.  The ground has to be able to soak up a lot of the rain so that it doesn't just run into the street.  So some kind of permeable ground cover would be needed.  I'm sure there are a number of options.
Aug 12, 2013 4:46PM
And they want to continue FRACKING.
Aug 12, 2013 7:59PM
What will my dog use for salad now?
Aug 13, 2013 7:31PM
Having lived in Arizona for a few years, it killed me to see all the water wasted on grass and non-native landscaping. All those plants brought in birds and bugs not native to the area AND caused humidity to go up. Allergies arrived with the olive trees, which had to be banned since they were big time pollen spreaders. People who had moved to the desert for the dry air had to leave. I left after suffering severe migraines. Hey, move to the desert, EMBRACE the desert. You want maple trees and emerald green grass, stay on the east coast!
Aug 13, 2013 1:00AM
What gets me is these places that have sprinklers on timers...half the time they're watering the grass while it's raining...
Aug 13, 2013 12:57AM

I've always wondered why people in AZ and NV insist on having lawns, then spending assloads of money keeping the green. In my opinion, you want to landscape with native foliage because if it grows well on it's own with no assistance or human interference, it'll do great in a yard. That's one reason I can't stand those areas. I don't like the drabness and the browns and taupe colors. It's flat and to me, everything looks the same. I have relatives that live in both Arizona and Nevada and think it's the greatest place on earth. I, on the other hand, like mountains and greenery and cooler temperatures. I would love Alaska.

Aug 13, 2013 6:30PM

I live in Schertz, TX where there has been a drought for years, However, the city demands that new houses on more than 1/2 acre must put in grass and sprinkler systems. It is in the planning code, article 9 Sec 21.917 C.1. This must be stopped. it is complete waste.

C. Installation and Maintenance

1. Prior to issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy for any building or

structure, all screening and landscaping shall be in place in accordance

with the landscape plan approved as part of the site plan which shall

include sod in full front and rear yards, except for landscape beds and

gardens. On property containing a minimum of one-half (1/2) acre or

greater, sod in front and rear yards shall be planted adjacent to the slab for

a distance of fifty feet (50’) and for a distance of twenty feet (20’) in side



Aug 12, 2013 4:54PM
any ideas on eliminating Bermuda grass form desert landscaping??
how do you sign up - can't stand my yard and quite honestly dont want to pay for the upkeep
Aug 13, 2013 10:43PM
I live in and am from Colorado which is high desert. Water has never been plentiful here and has always gone to down slope states like CA and NV where they use it for bright lights and palm trees. I was raised to use water conservatively. Thanks for catching up America!
Aug 13, 2013 9:15PM
In a lot of Arizona builders install a fine front and back yard of 1 inch gravel. Wow! How great. No cost of landscaping (to the builder). Make more bucks. No upkeep for the homeowner until the seeds get under this crap and sprout in the rainy season. Too hot to even think about going outside so you can stay inside on your butt working out your fingers on your computer - or, if you're really serious you can blow an annual and monthly fee for a jock shop. I've got more or less a hundred square feet in my back yard. God waters it. This means its green sometimes and brown others. I get over it. The front is native. Cactus really have beautiful flowers. OBTW if you let mother earth take care of your plants the city will send you a snottygram telling you to get rid of it before they do - and bill you. They don't understand that a weed is ANY plant growing where you don't want it.
Aug 13, 2013 9:12PM
Grass and shade trees. Cut  your tree to develop big umbrella like crown, not just typical park cut.When you use local trees- it may be big fire, so used fire  safe trees, not just water savers.
Remove all low branches.
Aug 12, 2013 7:44PM
The only reason I have so much lawn is because the family uses it.  When the kids get older, the lawn goes.  Even here in Portland, there are 3 months when you have to water it plenty to keep it green.
Aug 13, 2013 9:23PM
Best idea possible...don't move/live in communities with water supply issues. Water requirements fly in the face of community development. Housing/building growth is needed for communities to grow their tax base. At the same time this type of growth endangers the water supply. Catch 22

Stop the building industry from constructing developments without a guaranteed water supply. Now its "grass" next it is "pools", then bathing every day, and it goes on. Lack of government is the problem.

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