Turf buyback sprouts endless possibilities


Publisher’s note: This is one in a random series of stories about what it’s like to go through the South Tahoe Public Utility District turf buyback program.

By Kathryn Reed

I’m exhausted and overwhelmed, and I haven’t turned over one blade of grass. It’s going to be a long summer, or two.

My front yard – the only place where there is grass – has never been much to look at. It became less functional years ago when a tree removal company parked a crane on it. It made croquet balls hop instead of roll. Then there was the summer I spread fertilizer, but didn’t water it immediately.

Why would I want to keep watering a lawn I didn’t like?

And with South Tahoe Public Utility District installing a water meter last summer, how much I pay to water that grass is about to change. Something had to be done.

I got myself on the waiting list for the turf buyback program last year and this year I am part of the program.

Donielle Morse, left, and Leanette Rangle with South Tahoe PUD take turf measurements. Photos/Kathryn Reed

Donielle Morse, left, and Lannette Rangel with South Tahoe PUD take turf measurements. Photos/Kathryn Reed

Last week Donielle Morse and Lannette Rangel with STPUD came out to measure the turf – 804-square-feet; and have me sign a contract – I must keep the new stuff in for five years, plant native or low water consuming plants over 35 percent of the area, and use a better, low water use irrigation system. They told me other particulars to ensure I will qualify for the $1,206 rebate check.

The buyback program is open to all South Tahoe PUD water customers. The most anyone will get is $3,000. The equation is $1.50 per square foot.

They took pictures and will do the same when I call for the final inspection.

I’m supposed to keep a list of all the plants I use, create a sketch of where things go and have stats about the irrigation system. (Hand watering is also an option.) I have a sprinkler system so it seems logical to convert it.

I ask about transplanting things from the back to the front. That’s OK, but they suggest I ask the TRCD about how well specific vegetation does when moved.

That afternoon Jennifer Cressy with the Tahoe Resource Conservation District came out. The free consultation is part of the program. She gives me ideas about how to relocate some of the established plants I have and says others aren’t transplantable.

“Talk nice to it the whole time,” she says of the bushes I’m eyeing to move. She also says to make sure my shovel is sharpened. (I didn’t bother to tell her I’ve never thought about sharpening a shovel before.)

She peruses the other things growing in the back and points out how the roses would be easy to transplant. Hmmm. I hadn’t thought about that and suddenly see potential.

I already knew all sides of the house were going to be disturbed in this remake. It might get messier and more complicated, though, than I anticipated. It’s a good thing I have two seasons to get the turf out and have the area revegetated.

Jennifer Cressy with Tahoe Resource Conservation District talks about thinning a bush before replanting it.

Jennifer Cressy with Tahoe Resource Conservation District shows where to thin a bush before replanting it.

“One of the easier techniques is composting the lawn in place if you are doing it yourself,” Cressy tells me.

Cressy introduced me to the term sheet mulching. I have since read more about it. It seems like an easier alternative than what I thought I was going to have to do, which was haul away all of my grass. Some of the literature even says I won’t have to take all the grass out, but instead I could kill it by blocking out the sun.

With a sod cutter I’d need to be wary of tree roots.

Cressy offers simple tips – like when ordering soil amendment, get extra for future projects; have any deliveries be dumped onto a tarp so it’s easier to scoop it up at the end; plant shallow rooted vegetation near trees because the trees absorb so much water; pay attention to where snow is shoveled or dumped by the city so flexible bushes go there.

When it comes to what to plant that is determined on a site-by-site case. I’m on an extremely high water table so that will make a difference in what I can plant compared to someone who is on a slope.

“Climate and native appropriate plants” are what we all should be shopping for.

Cressy throws out the idea of a raised vegetable bed near the door. She adds that edibles and plants that smell good should be near the walkways.

I’m on information overload. But she gets me thinking. Next step – put a design onto paper.



· Tahoe Resource Conservation District has a wealth of landscaping information online – not just for those taking out turf.

· More information about South Tahoe PUD’s turf buyback program is online. The website also has information about the current water restrictions.

· The Evans’ Family Garden in the Angora burn area has examples of appropriate vegetation for the Lake Tahoe Basin.

· Here is a list of landscaping workshops for the do-it-yourself gardeners, landscapers and landscape managers.




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Comments (12)
  1. Old Long Skiis says - Posted: May 31, 2015

    The Turf buyback program is great! One of my neighbors signed up and now they have wildflowers and vegetables growing where there once was a lawn. All on drip irregation so they are conserving water and growing their own food. You can’t eat lawn, and the flowers come back every year as do some vegetables.
    Call Donielle at STPUD and find out about this, you’ll be glad yoi did! OLS

  2. fromform says - Posted: May 31, 2015

    petition to have turf removed from keys, no ‘buyback’

  3. reloman says - Posted: May 31, 2015

    Yes fromfrom petition to have all truf removed from all homes statewide(including yours if you have it) If someone does not have the money to pay for it that’s ok, All it really cost is the labor to remove it, and they can do that themselves. I personally LOVE just dirt front yards.

  4. Dogula says - Posted: May 31, 2015

    I wouldn’t think Keys would qualify for the STPUD buy-back program, because they belong to a different water district. Right?

  5. fromform says - Posted: May 31, 2015

    not the point

  6. Old Long Skiis says - Posted: May 31, 2015

    The Tahoe Keys will not have water meters as they are just under the limit of population to be required to have metered water and they have their own water company making them exempt from water conservation.
    Do you think all those vacation home owners in the keys, many part time or some full time home owners, want to give up their lawns???? Highly doubtful.
    So we are left with lots of over watered lawns pouring fertilizer into the lake via the dredged canals.
    Non native warm water fish, milfoil, clams, musseles, sewage spills… the list is long!
    The Keys was and stll is, one of the biggest mistakes ever to effect Lake Tahoe.
    I’ll bet their will be no turf buyback from anybody there. Old Long Skiis

  7. Isee says - Posted: May 31, 2015

    OMG, OLS, You’ve got to be kidding! I hope you are.
    (By the way, I call you the “Mayor” on LTN comment area)

  8. fromform says - Posted: May 31, 2015

    isee, re: ‘mayor’ statement: is this a compliment?

  9. Old Long Skiis says - Posted: May 31, 2015

    It is my understanding that those in the keys provided by the keys water service will be exempt from the water meters going in around town. I believe it was because of the small number of customers. At least that’s what I thought I read.
    “the mayor”, OLS

  10. Cranky Gerald says - Posted: May 31, 2015

    After many years of installing water meters in all new construction, and planning to install them everywhere, it is my understanding that the Keys did successfully use an exemption based on the number of connections in the Keys water company to avoid the CA state requirement to install meters.

    Less well known is there is an interconnect between the Keys water system and STPU|D ostensibly for emergencies, fires etc.

    Even less well kno0wn is the fact that there are homes in the Keys that get their water from STPUD, since the Keys system had not been extended to the area. There is some agreement with the TKPOA to buy this water from STPUD.

    I do not know if this means STPUD is installing water meters on these lots or not. I would think it would be mandatory.

    The Keys also provides water to the Keys Marina and all the businesses in the general area.

    It would truly be a shame if the environmental disaster that is the Keys is able to tell the rest of the state to stick it in this time of deficient water supplies.

    Perhaps LTN could write about this, and expose the facts.

    I don’t believe the Governors conservation program was limited to only those with water meters.

  11. local2 says - Posted: June 1, 2015

    As I mentioned before let STPUD admin and their employee’s set the example by giving up their sod, let’s see how that goes.

  12. greengrass says - Posted: June 2, 2015


    “t’s going to be along summer”

    *a long

    Otherwise, good article.

    I think they should add something to this program about planting vegetation that is fire safe. Many people plant dry flammable plants that could easily catch fire.