Water-starved LA says no to grass and now, synthetic turf

Sprinkling a lawn is a great way to waste water, and it’s even worse when you’re in a dry place like Los Angeles. With that in mind, LA’s Turf Removal Program, which gave rebates to people who replaced their lawns with synthetic turf, seems like a great idea.

So why has the rebate just been banned? Because covering your land with plastic grass isn’t much different from covering it with a plastic sheet when it comes to preventing much-needed rainwater from soaking into the ground.

Fake turf causes runoff, which literally sends water down the drain, which is why it has been removed from the requirements to get the $1.75-per-square-foot rebate. Instead, LA’s Department of Water and Power now focuses on getting rainwater into the ground, and planting plants that will use it wisely.

In addition to this effective outlawing of synthetic turf, the program has made some other changes. For starters, it now requires 50% coverage (up from 40%) of California Friendly plants (plants which need little water or other resource-heavy maintenance), limits the amount of rock or gravel that can be used to 25% of the project area (down from 60%), and requires rainfall-capture techniques in designs. The limits on rocks minimize the “heat-island” effect, lowering the surface temperature on a property by not capturing and storing the sun’s energy. Plastic turf also retains more heat than regular soil, and the elimination of these two heat retainers should also reduce the need for air conditioning.

It’s a smart change that tweaks existing rules to better serve their purpose. Gardens require less water and maintenance, and they help to cool the city, but they also contribute to LA’s future, because the water that soaks into the ground helps feed aquifers. And because the changes are a part of a program that pays people to take part, there’s very little room for complaint. It’s win-win. Now, if only LA could do something about its cars.