STPUD encouraging residents to remove sod

By Kathryn Reed

More than 270,000-square-feet of grass have been eliminated in the six years since South Tahoe Public Utility District has had the turf buyback program. This equates to a savings of approximately 3.5 million gallons of water.

Last week the board agreed to put in $300,000 of district money into the program to be split between this season and next for residential customers and another $75,000 for businesses.

“We are committing our own resources to run the program irrespective of if the grant is approved,” General Manager Richard Solbrig told Lake Tahoe News.

To date the district has spent $400,000 on the program, with 95 percent of the money coming from grants. More grants have been applied for, but it’s not known yet if those dollars will be forthcoming.

The district is mandated by the state to reduce its water consumption by 28 percent. Turf buyback is a step toward meeting that requirement.

Jennifer Cressy with Tahoe Resource Conservation District explains various irrigation methods that don't use much water. Photo/LTN

Jennifer Cressy with Tahoe Resource Conservation District explains various irrigation methods that don’t use much water. Photo/LTN

The board on May 7 also agreed to keep the number of watering days to three, though that could change to two. The time to irrigate has been changed to between 6pm and 6am, with a maximum of 20 minutes per zone.

“The rebate program is an incentive to remove water intensive lawns with natural or adapted vegetation,” Donielle Morse explained at a turf buyback meeting last week. Morse is in charge of the district’s water conservation program.

She and Jennifer Cressy with Tahoe Resource Conservation District spent a couple hours telling about 20 people how the program works.

It is open to any STPUD water customer. It may be open to sewer customers if more money is available. About 200 households have participated going into this season.

It starts with getting your name on the list and then having Morse do a site visit. In years past the district insisted people have a living yard to be dug up. Because of the drought the district doesn’t want people watering something that will be removed, so dead lawns can be part of the program.

“We don’t want you to water your lawn. You will quality even if the lawn is brown. If it’s dirt, you won’t qualify,” Morse explained.

Another requirement is that at least 400-square-feet of turf must be removed. Residents don’t have to take all of their grass out, though. And it cannot be relocated to another area of the yard.

While the district doesn’t say exactly how people must fill in what will be a bare area, there are some requirements. The plot must be covered with 35 percent living plants at maturity. This is down from past years when it was 50 percent.

“When you remove the lawn you need to revegetate,” Morse said. “There needs to be efficient irrigation.”

A new watering system is usually in the form of drip irrigation. Sprinkler heads can be capped or retrofitted to comply.

Final inspections require having names of the plants that were used and the water capacity of the irrigation system.

Any dirt areas must be covered with a permeable mulch or ground cover like thyme or strawberries. Artificial turf is not an option. Rock, bark and woodchips are good choices.

While the district won’t be looking at Tahoe Regional Planning Agency best management practice rules or defensible space regulations, those policies should be followed, Morse said.

Rebate checks are not issued until STPUD verifies the lawn is out, and the new plants and irrigation system are in place. The rebate is $1.50 per square foot of turf that is removed, with a maximum of 2,000 square feet being eligible or $3,000.

Because of the uncertainty of cash flow for the program, it’s possible some people won’t receive checks until 2016. This also means people have two summers to complete the program, whereas previously it had to be done in one season.

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    Comments (31)
    1. oldtimer says - Posted: May 11, 2015

      We pay the highest rates and our money buy’s back our lawn, what a deal, we get to buy our lawn removal. Perfect.

    2. John S says - Posted: May 11, 2015

      While I like the program I would say it is a financial burden to cover the costs up front especially when you might not get reimbursed.

    3. david dewitt says - Posted: May 11, 2015

      I will rip my lawn out when the golf clubs do.

    4. tony colombo says - Posted: May 11, 2015

      It is not necessary to water 8 months of the year- is that not cutting back?

    5. Old Long Skiis says - Posted: May 11, 2015

      STPUD’S turf buyback program is great! My neighbors on the next street over did this and their front yard looks beautiful. Wildlowers in one bed and a vegegatble garden next to that and all on drip irrigation.
      As Kae reported, if you sign up for this after calling STPUD and having your yard looked at you get $1.50 a sq. ft. to replace your lawn with plants that use less water.
      This being our 4th year of drought we need to conserve every drop! Take care and don’t waste water. OLS

    6. yobobbyb says - Posted: May 11, 2015

      They could remove every bit of sod in California and the effect on the water supply would be close to zero. Extracting a 25% cut on the 10% of water used by residences equates to a 2.5% overall cut. The drought is Mother Nature’s handiwork, the crisis is man made. Sacramento is nibbling at the fringe and won’t go after exported water hogs like almonds going to Asia and alfalfa exported to Saudi for horses and camels.

      If there is really a crisis then the state should get serious. Until then, my lawn is safe. As is the Smelt apparently.

    7. Isee says - Posted: May 11, 2015

      Why would this program require an inspection with the names of the plants? Does STPUD think people are going to put invasive species in their former lawn areas?. I helped a friend a few years ago, -putting strawberries as ground cover on his property. He had to do it twice ’cause they weren’t dense enough. I bet there’s not 2 plants out of 2 thousand left alive today.
      Also, if bark and wood chips are suitable replacements, homeowners may want to question the idea of putting flammable material right next to their house or deck in a dire state of drought conditions.

    8. Fifty Year Resident says - Posted: May 11, 2015

      STPUD started our water rationing in 2007 and the state did nothing. Now we are painted into a corner as now the state wants us to cut back water use and we already have. Now we have to cut back more to meet the states goals without considering our previous cut backs. We all need to conserve water no doubt about that however we need to do so at the same level as other areas in the state.

      I would like STUPUD to show us what other areas in the state that have the possibility of twice a week watering.

    9. fromform says - Posted: May 11, 2015

      fifty: this again brings to bear focus on the ‘selectively metered’ situation we have here in south shore. re: sod removal: it’s telling that as a species we are potentially at war (over water) with the generators of oxygen on the planet. overpopulation’s a *****, ain’t it?

    10. Steve says - Posted: May 11, 2015

      What is to keep someone from watering 3 or 4 times a day on their 2 or 3 designated watering days, without penalty, particularly late at night.

      The only effective way to get people to conserve is through their pocketbook, by charging for actual consumption with progressively tiered rates, like electricity and gas. Like them or not, meters are a fair solution.

    11. local says - Posted: May 11, 2015

      Let’s start with STPUD employee’s giving up their sod for the sacrifice example of their home pride manicured lawns. I know of one who will leave their hose sprinkler on and drive away and leave it on for hours!
      STPUD Admin you need to set the example by making it mandatory for all STPUD employee’s to remove their sod with NO incentives and let’s see how that’s goes.
      Oh, but wait they have the union behind them, they can get away with anything they want! Same old story.

    12. Old Long Skiis says - Posted: May 11, 2015

      So, water rationing during a drought is bad? Oh well, we will all pay the price this summer!
      High fire danger thruout the region, higher food prices due to lack of water for agriculter, higher unemployment and more busineses closing. All due to lack of water.
      We have little if any snow in the mountains for this time of year, which means creeks and rivers drying up which means a lower lake level.
      Boat ramps closing or being dredged to try to allow accses to the lake, trees starting to die off and losing limbs and the pines showing signs of weakining.
      So to those folks wasting water? Please wake up!
      Conserve water however you can. OLS

    13. local says - Posted: May 11, 2015

      Amen OLS! Resort to drought resistant native tree’s, shrub’s, plants, etc, etc, etc. Water them once a week, don’t drench them(over water), just enough water to sustain them by hand using a spray water nozzle, early morning or. you’ll be amazed how well they will thrive regardless. Take shorter showers(by far), turn the water off with soaping up and washing hair, etc. Turn the water tap off when brushing your teeth, shaving, run the dishwasher/clothes washer less often,use less water when you boil water for coffee or tea etc. etc, etc.
      Most of all if you have a drippy facet anywhere inside or outside, spend the $ to fix it, you would be blown away how much water get’s wasted in this manner. It’s time to get your plumbing in order to operate a well oiled dialed in machine and keep it that way. Please try as this is very serious matter, Water The Essence Of Life As We Know It, can no longer be taken for granted we no longer have that option.
      Good luck in your honest participation to conserve precious water! Our lives depend on it, think about folks.

    14. Kits Carson says - Posted: May 11, 2015

      I’m all for conservation but will start after ‘STUPID’ stops raising our rates. Yes, this “crisis” as Gov. Moonbutt calls it is man made not nature made. Droughts come and go just as some old goat governors. I just wish this one would go!

    15. Buck says - Posted: May 11, 2015

      What is STPUD doing with Heavenly’s snow making? I hope we can water our trees like Heavenly does all winter with millions or gallons.

    16. Rick says - Posted: May 11, 2015

      Kits, you need to get out more. You may have missed it, but this current drought is the worst drought in over 1200 years. Combine the drought that with the warming temperatures and you get a very exacerbated situation. While we had a drought in the mid-1970s and 1980s were serious, the number of people in the mid-1970s was about 20 million and about 26 million in the mid-1980s. Ag was also using less water.

      So, as most informed folks are aware, today is very very different. Warming conditions drying out soil much quicker then before, more people by a lot, more intensive agricultural and shifting populations into desert or hotter regions. Gov Brown did not cause all of those things, but he is suitably reacting to solve the problem.


    17. Kits Carson says - Posted: May 11, 2015

      Still, droughts come and go.

    18. Moral Hazard says - Posted: May 11, 2015

      Rick drought doesn’t matter one wit if there is no water shortage…and there most certainly is not in the Lake Tahoe Basin. In fact the water was lower in the 1990’s and it was fine then too.

      Every house that is older than 2007 in my neighborhood had raked up their pine needles and had a lawn. It doesn’t have to be much lawn, but EVERY SINGLE HOUSE that survived, had irrigated plants.

      It may not be the way you would like it; but it is the way that it is.

    19. duke of prunes says - Posted: May 11, 2015

      ‘ EVERY SINGLE HOUSE that survived’
      Have fun supporting that statement.

    20. Rick says - Posted: May 11, 2015

      Moral you are clueless, there is no water to store. I guess your solution when your funds run low, just open up a couple of more checking accounts, that will solve the problem. Real solutions are to follow Israel’s example, strategic desalination plants and relying on recycled water – which is starting to happen.

      BTW, the entire west, particularly the Southwest is going through a water shortage including Nevada.

      See Lake Mead on track for record low water level. Yeah, more storage will solve it – NOT.


    21. Terri says - Posted: May 11, 2015

      I worked very hard to put a pool in my yard. I bought a house with a large yard for play, relaxation and garden and landscape. I pay my outrageous bills for MY water. We the people own our water,ya know. Time to put it all up for sale . I think you are STUPID STPUD.
      Look at all the people playing golf are they playing in dirt ? Ah no..
      This whole thing is mismanaged .
      When the rains come the next directive will be to plants something !!! Ugg.

    22. Frank says - Posted: May 11, 2015

      How is STPUD going to ensure those WITHOUT A METER are cutting back the same required percentage and those with a meter? Until there is fairness that all customers are cutting back the same, then we are being treated discriminately, which is not legal. Those without a meter can water until the snow flies again, which may be awhile. Those with a meter can’t have flowers or a lawn? Unfair.

    23. sunriser2 says - Posted: May 11, 2015

      I want STPUD to post figures on the draw down if any to our LOCAL aquifers and the affect if ANY on lake levels. I call BS, I don’t understand how not flushing my toilet the water magically appears in someones pool in LA.

      How many more miles of turf is going to be planted along HWY 50??????

    24. fromform says - Posted: May 11, 2015

      frank: kinda what i was gettin at

    25. lou Pierini says - Posted: May 11, 2015

      Today the lake is less than 2 inches below its natural rim.

    26. Whip says - Posted: May 11, 2015

      It really doesn’t matter that there isn’t a water shortage in the Tahoe basin, or that STPUD’s wells haven’t been negatively affected by the drought at this point.
      It really doesn’t matter that if we didn’t use another drop of water for the rest of the year it wouldn’t have a positive impact anywhere in California.
      What does matter is “The district is (mandated) by the state to reduce its water consumption by 28 percent.”
      The same way the state has (mandated) STPUD to get everyone on meters.
      I’m not happy about having to cut back on water usage more than I already have, or about having a meter installed when we don’t have a shortage of water in the basin.
      Both of these regulations were thrown at us because of water issues elsewhere in California.
      The 3 day a week watering and turf buyback are STPUD’s attempts to cut back on water usage and have been in place for years. I would think STPUD started these programs to hold the line on demand or even reduce it rather than having to drill extra wells at our expense.
      The problem I have with the turf buyback is if they were really serious about saving water they 1. Wouldn’t require you to do anything but pull up your turf and lay down some needles or the items they mention above. 2. They wouldn’t require you buy a bunch of plants, and require you have “efficient irrigation”. We’re trying to save water, right? Why not let it go back to its natural state.
      Anyway, I won’t qualify for the program because I’m not going to spend the money on the plants or pay for water that’s not watering a lawn, but rather a patch of weeds.
      However, I’m going to shrink the size of my lawn because of the meters being installed, again, not because of a water shortage, but because of a state mandate.

    27. Moral Hazard says - Posted: May 12, 2015

      Whip, you are correct, that is why that is happening. But that doesn’t mean I am motivated to comply. I wont comply with an order that everyone agrees does nothing for water quality / quantity but DOES increase fire hazard.

      I refuse to be mindless.

      I already have my lawn as small as the fire department recommends, about 30 feet.

    28. Moral Hazard says - Posted: May 12, 2015

      Rick, I was talking about Tahoe, not Lake Meade, which you should know is a couple hundred HUCs from here. And there isn’t one person suggesting there is anything but normal water levels in Tahoe.

      And yes the El Nino is building. So I am going to sit out this supposed emergency until there is an actual water shortage.

    29. Whip says - Posted: May 12, 2015

      Moral, It sounds like you have a reasonably sized lawn and I agree with what your saying. Mine on the other hand is a fairly large lawn that hasn’t been a problem in the past, but now that I’ll have to be paying to water it due to meters being installed soon, I’ll be shrinking it for financial reasons.

    30. Dogula says - Posted: June 8, 2015

      So I want to know, while the rest of us are watering on our odd/even days, between the hours of 6pm and 6am ONLY, why is Happy Homestead Cemetery watering on a Monday (their days should be Sun/Tues/Thurs, at 1:15pm?? Don’t city owned facilities have to follow the laws they enforce on the rest of us???