With boosted incentives, locals dash to remove grass

Water flows down a rock into a small pond at Anita Kane's yard in Hollister.

San Benito County residents are buying in to a turf removal program put together by the local water conservation agency.
The Water Resources Association of San Benito County’s Turf Removal Program that launched at the outset of July was so popular, the agency hit its $100,000 allotment cap by the start of August, said Shawn Novack, water conservation program manager at the agency, part of the San Benito County Water District.
The 2015 program paid as much as $1,000 for up to 1,000 square feet of grass replacement as long as homeowners followed certain restrictions such as only replacing grass with such features as drought-tolerant plants, California natives or permeable landscapes that would exclude artificial grass. It was in response to the four-year drought and the state’s requirement to reduce residential water use by 25 percent.
This summer, to help get Hollister-area districts to that goal, the agency doubled the allowable square footage per home after mild interest a year ago. With a funding boost, the cap per home went from 500 square feet to 1,000 square feet at up to $1 per square foot. The total program budget, funded by four local water agencies, went from $28,000 last year to $100,000 this summer.
Novack said he believed the bump in square footage helped to set off the bonanza for those dollars.
“It was just wildly popular,” Novack told the Free Lance. “We’ve been running around like crazy.”
Novack was relieved to find out that although his agency has been forced to turn away interested homeowners after running out of funds, the California Department of Water Resources on Wednesday announced it would start a similar program allowing double the reimbursement and square footage—up to $2,000 per home—compared with the local initiative.
Those interested in participating in the state program can examine it at http://www.saveourwaterrebates.com/turf-replacement-rebates.html.
As for the local program, there were many satisfied customers such as Anita Kane, longtime owner of Anita Kane Landscape Architect at 965 West St. in Hollister.
“We even tied in when I redid my yard. The timing of it coincided with a garden tour,” said Kane, referring to the first such tour put on by the San Benito County Resource Conservation District.
Kane pointed out that in her trade, landscape architects haven’t been encouraging traditional lawns for a decade.
“The drought has kind of caught up with what we were doing in the industry,” Kane said. “It’s not a problem. There’s so many ways to do landscape without grass.”
Kane noted that with her yard, she used a native grass to replace the nonnative version that was more of a bluegrass. The native California grass uses less than half the water of the typical bluegrass lawn, she pointed out.
There’s another benefit, both to the environment and a person’s schedule. She doesn’t have to mow it and chooses not to, opting for a “lumpy, natural” look.
“It is still green like a lawn would be,” she said.
But her yard—lush with an array of landscape features that include a small frog-welcoming pond—doesn’t involve use of pesticides, fertilizers or gases from a lawnmower and needs no electricity.
“Those are all good things,” Kane said. “Those are the all the reasons we don’t like to encourage lawns.”

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