Tear out lawns

About half of water used in cities and towns is used outdoors for washing cars, hosing down sidewalks and irrigating roughly 4 million acres of turf. Turf drinks up the most water in any month, in any part of California, of any plant analyzed in a state report.

Tearing out turf and replacing it with more drought-tolerant plants could save between 1 million and 1.5 million acre-feet per year, with the largest savings coming from residences, the Pacific Institute estimates.  

California temporarily banned watering decorative, non-functional turf at businesses and institutions under emergency regulations adopted in May 2022, and is reviving rebates for tearing out turf.

A statewide turf replacement program that began during the last drought tapped out in June 2020 after putting more than $20.5 million towards helping people replace their lawns. Local water providers continued their own multi-million dollar efforts, however, and the state put $75 million in funding toward rebates in the state’s 2022-2023 budget. 

The Metropolitan Water District has spent more than $350 million coaxing Southern Californians to convert more than 200 million square feet of turf. And there is a ripple effect, with some of their neighbors tearing out their lawns, too. 

But there are limits to peer pressure. Celebrities and others continue to be called out for over-watering their yards, and urban water use remains high, with cities and towns, particularly in Southern California, failing to meet Newsom’s goal to cut their water use by 15%.