Residents encouraged to seek rebates for drought-tolerant lawns 

  • AP Photo/Ellen Knickmeyer
In San Mateo, where about half of residents’ water use goes toward watering the lawn, officials are encouraging community members to take advantage of a rebate program by converting lawns into water-efficient landscapes.

As the state continues to grapple with a historic drought, communities are responding in a variety of ways including enforcing mandatory water-conservation measures and calling for water use reductions for residents and businesses. San Mateo’s program provides a $1-per-square-foot rebate to those who convert their lawns into drought-tolerant landscapes.

The Lawn Be Gone! program, which has been implemented by several Peninsula cities in partnership with the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency, provides guidelines for replacing grass lawns with native plants that require less water, such as Italian buckthorn or hillside gooseberry.

Kathy Kleinbaum of the City Manager’s Office said that although the program has existed for a few years, San Mateo is paying particular attention to it now because of the current extreme drought.

The conservation agency works with a variety of cities and regions to implement the rebate program, including Daly City, San Bruno, Foster City, Redwood City and the Mid-Peninsula Water District.

More than 100 people have enrolled so far for an upcoming class in San Mateo on the lawn conversion process, said BAWSCA Water Resources Manager Michael Hurley. He added that the group has seen a sharp increase in the numbers of applicants and attendees for area workshops over the past year.

Andree Johnson of the conservation agency said that the organization’s biggest challenge in getting residents to sign up is helping people get started with the lawn conversions and making sure they understand how the four-month process works. But many of those who’ve made the transition on their property are satisfied with their new, climate-friendly native landscaping, she said.

“For the first year, while the plants take hold, you’ll have to water them. But after that first year, outdoor water use can be reduced to low to none,” Johnson said. Homeowners are not only able to reduce their water bills, but with the rebate, the out-of-pocket costs for the conversion can be, in some cases, almost totally reimbursed, she noted.

In Daly City, no one has yet applied for the rebate, said Cynthia Royer of the city’s Water and Wastewater Department, who attributed it partially to a lack of understanding of the steps required to attain the rebate. Royer is not sure, she said, how many lawn conversions it would take to make a noticeable difference in Daly City’s overall water use.

“Only 9 percent of our water use comes from outdoor water use,” she said, explaining that the foggy conditions and small lots there mitigate lawn watering. The impact that such rebate programs can have on cutting overall water use in a certain city depends on that city’s environmental features, Hurley said.

“We foresee that it will make significant reductions in water use for cities with lots of residential areas and larger lots,” Hurley said.

Said Johnson: “A lot has been done by these cities already on the indoor side. Most houses have low-flow toilets installed.”

But measures targeted at outdoor water use are the “last frontier” of water conservation, Hurley described.

Instructions for the application process along with a full list of water-efficient plants and a class schedule can be found at

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Emilie Mutert

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