In Cal­i­for­nia - a $350 mil­lion so­cial ex­per­i­ment over lawns

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Cal­i­for­nia wa­ter agen­cies that spent more than $350 mil­lion in the last two years of drought to pay prop­erty own­ers to rip out wa­ter­slurp­ing lawns are now try­ing to an­swer whether the na­tion’s big­gest lawn re­moval ex­per­i­ment was all worth the cost. Around the state, wa­ter ex­perts and wa­ter-dis­trict em­ploy­ees are em­ploy­ing satel­lite im­ages, in­frared aerial pho­tos, neigh­bor­hood drive-bys and com­plex al­go­rithms to gauge just how much grassy turf was re­moved.

They also want to know whether the for­tune in re­bates helped turn Cal­i­for­nia tastes last­ingly away from emer­ald-green turf. “How well did it work? That’s re­ally key when we’re work­ing on his­toric in­vest­ments,” said Pa­trick At­wa­ter, a project man­ager at the Cal­i­for­nia Data Col­lab­o­ra­tive, a coali­tion of util­i­ties and other wa­ter-re­lated en­ti­ties grap­pling with the ques­tion.

Re­mov­ing lawns may sound like a small, wonky step, com­pared to build­ing dams. But the green turf in Amer­i­can yards ac­tu­ally stands as a wor­thy tar­get for wa­ter sav­ings, a pub­lic en­emy in the eyes of many dur­ing a drought such as Cal­i­for­nia’s fiveyear-old one. The US En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency es­ti­mates one-third of all wa­ter used by Amer­i­can house­holds goes to wa­ter­ing lawns and gar­dens. That’s 9 bil­lion gal­lons of wa­ter each day enough to sup­ply drink­ing wa­ter daily for nine cities the size of New York. In 2015, af­ter a dev­as­tat­ingly dry win­ter, Gov Jerry Brown or­dered 25per­cent wa­ter con­ser­va­tion by cities and towns.

He man­dated $25 mil­lion in state-govern­ment spend­ing to help cover the costs of low-in­come Cal­i­for­nia fam­i­lies in par­tic­u­lar re­mov­ing their grass, and putting less-thirsty, cli­mate-suit­able plants in their yards in­stead. Brown set a goal of elim­i­nat­ing 50 mil­lion square feet of lawn. That breaks down to less than two square miles of green­ery, out of what the Pub­lic Pol­icy In­sti­tute of Cal­i­for­nia think-tank has es­ti­mated at around 1,000 square miles of wa­tered yards statewide. But state spend­ing proved a drop in the bucket com­pared to the money lo­cal wa­ter dis­tricts put into lawn re­bates.

Met­ro­pol­i­tan Wa­ter Dis­trict of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, a gi­ant wa­ter whole­saler pro­vid­ing wa­ter to Los An­ge­les and more than two dozen other cities, coun­ties and wa­ter dis­tricts, poured just over $300 mil­lion into lawn re­bates from 2014 on, re­mov­ing five square miles of lawn. MWD dou­bled its re­bate of­fer to $2 for each square feet of lawn re­moved, and the lawn re­bates quickly be­came the dis­trict’s most pop­u­lar pro­gram ever. Work­ers pro­cessed as much as $10 mil­lion in re­bate ap­pli­ca­tions a week at peak. In July 2015 alone, South­ern Cal­i­for­ni­ans ap­plied for re­bates to re­move the equiv­a­lent of 1,665 front lawns. —AP

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