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Trading Greenbacks for Green Lawns

What’s better than tearing out your water guzzling, time-consuming lawn and replacing it with more sustainable, more appropriate plants? Getting paid to do it! Residents in San Diego think this is a pretty great idea too, and their very own “Cash for Grass” program has had so many applicants that they are no longer accepting additional applications. For each resident whose application was accepted, they have been or will be paid for lawn removal and replacement with native, water saving plants. (The program also allowed the lawn to be replaced with synthetic turf, but here’s to hoping residents opted for real plants that are native to the Southwest.) Although the San Diego program is closed to new applicants, it could be a template for cities to adopt across the country (minus the astroturf), especially in areas where drought has been a serious problem.

Before and after pictures showing a transformation (Photo Credit: SoCal Water$mart)

Before and after pictures showing a Cash for Grass transformation (Photo Credit: SoCal Water$mart)

Many plants that are native to Southern California need minimal amounts of water to thrive. Often, they are also fire resistant, which is a huge plus in hot, arid climates where fire hazards are a very real issue. In order to help educate potential lawn defectors, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California has a website dedicated to this issue called bewaterwise.com. Here they have resources to plant your California Friendly garden along with step-by-step instructions to guide you throughout the process.

California Sycamore (Photo Credit: miheco)

California Sycamore (Photo Credit: miheco)

The website suggests selecting a variety of plants that are both beautiful and function with little water input, like the Coast Live Oak or California Sycamores, which are fire resistant. You can plant trees, shrubs and smaller plants to give your yard a variety of gorgeous native plants and create a thriving ecosystem right outside of your home. As a bonus, you can eat some of that landscape by cultivating edible plants like berries and dwarf fruit trees that thrive in warmer climates. And even if you’d just like to make your yard beautiful with flowering plants, these are always a boon to pollinators like bees that are a crucial part of our food system.

Although these monetary incentives are concentrated in the Southwest, there’s no reason for others across the country not to look into this type of program as well. See if you have one in your area, and if not, why not petition your local government to start one? With the San Diego program, by the time all of the lawn replacements are done, 1 million square feet of resource-intense grass will be removed. That amounts to a lot of water conserved. With so many benefits to replacing your lawn, and the possibility of getting paid to do so, it’s hard to see any reason not to give it a shot and design and implement your own water friendly yardspace!

About the Author – Emily Helminen is a fellow for the Transforming Cultures project at the Worldwatch Institute. With a background in biology, engineering and philosophy, Emily has followed an unlikely path to pursue a career in environmental sustainability, but it is the field in which she hopes to truly make a difference.

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