Lawn replaced with drought-tolerant plants

An after view of the front yard of La Crescenta resident Greg Foley, who replaced his lawn with drought-tolerant plants to conserve water. (Courtesy of Crescenta Valley Water District / February 26, 2014)

Greg Foley had a vision in mind last year when he began ripping out the beautifully green grass in the frontyard of his La Crescenta home. Neighbors were leery, but he had a mission to replace the water-wasting sod with something more suitable to California's dry climate — succulents.

"I was raised in the Midwest, where everybody has green grass," Foley explained. "Here, that's crazy. We live in a desert. Why are we wasting all this water?"

He replaced half his lawn with drought-tolerant plantings, and is now working on completing the project.

Officials from Crescenta Valley Water District (CVWD) saw the beauty of Foley's vision; in fact, they paid him $800 to help make it happen.

It's part of an annual rebate program that comps CVWD customers $1 per square foot, up to 800 square feet, to replace turf with drought-tolerant and California native plants. This is on top of a $1 per-square-foot rebate being offered through the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of Southern California, which has no cap.

Natalie Bellissimo, a CVWD conservation specialist who helped advise Foley on design and plant choice, said that although many are reluctant to forego their lawns for drought-tolerant plantings, the district processes about 30 to 40 rebate applications for turf replacement each year.

"I think people do want to conserve," Bellissimo said. "It's just hard for them to envision what their yards would look like without grass."

For customers of La Cañada water agencies, Foothill Municipal Water District also offers the MWD turf replacement rebate to entice homeowners away from water-guzzling lawns. General Manager Nina Jazmadarian estimates more than 60% of La Cañada's water is used outdoors on things like landscaping.

"There are such large lots and, because a lot of people don't have drought-tolerant landscaping, the yard becomes a large part of their bill," Jazmadarian said. "The easiest way to conserve is to put in drought-tolerant or California native plants, so people water less."

Despite the storms expected this week, the drought is not expected to end soon. The urge to conserve comes with a tinge of caution about what might happen if California's dry spell continues. Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown proclaimed a state of emergency, asking local officials to prepare themselves for drastic measures, and is now pursuing $689 million in drought-related legislation.

Regionally, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California has pulled 1 million acre-feet of water out of its storage supply, roughly 45% of its total store.

Jazmadarian said local utilities have plans in place should drought conditions continue, including water rationing. When that occurs, residents who overuse water run the risk of paying more for the water, receiving penalties and having their water shut off entirely.

Until then, officials advise homeowners to water landscaping only on even or odd days. In addition to turf replacement rebates, FMWD offers smaller rebates when residents replace inefficient water-using appliances and take other measures to avoid waste.

A full list of rebates offered locally can be found at http://www.fmwd.com. Crescenta Valley residents can learn more about rebates at http://www.cvwd.com.

Foley said the rebate gave him the incentive he needed to give his yard a California makeover. He hopes others will take advantage of the program, which requires a lot of work and cost up front but pays off in the long run.

"Is it going to be immediately profitable to me? No. But I said I'm going to do this because it's the right thing to do," Foley said.

-- Sara Cardine, sara.cardine@latimes.com

Follow on Twitter: @SaraCardine.

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