As more Californians tear out their lawns and plant drought-friendly gardens, many homeowners wonder how the effort will pencil out.
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In some areas, at least half of the daily water use is for lawns and outdoor landscaping, according to the State Water Resources Control Board. Between 1998 and 2010, homes used an average of 2.7 million acre-feet of water indoors and 3 million acre-feet outdoors, together accounting for nearly 13 percent of the state's water use, state figures show. An acre foot is nearly 326,000 gallons, or enough to cover a football field with a foot of water.
Homeowners who tear out their lawns will see savings in their water bills, though how much depends on what they plant instead. Long Beach, which began offering rebates in 2010 to residents who tear out their lawns, estimates that homes in its turf removal program cut down their water use by a fifth.
Water agencies are paying homeowners a rebate for tearing out grass and replacing it with drought-friendly plants, or in some cases, synthetic turf. Rebates started out several years ago at $1 a square foot of grass but in some cities have since risen as high as $3.50 a square foot.
In Southern California, more than 21 million square feet of turf have been removed since the incentives began, according to the region's Metropolitan Water District.
In Long Beach, some residents have been making similar changes to their yards without seeking the rebates as the landscapes become more common, said Matthew Lyons, director of planning and conservation for the city's water department.