Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

Turf Replacement Rebate Pays Out For Rancho Santa Fe Residents

Screen_Shot_2015-08-17_at_10.11.00_AM.png
Turf Replacement Rebate Pays Out For Rancho Santa Fe Residents
Turf Replacement Rebate Pays Out For Rancho Santa Fe Residents
Turf Replacement Rebate Pays Out For Rancho Santa Fe Residents GUESTS: Bill McDonnell, water use efficiency manager, Metropolitan Water District Gordon Hess, Independent Rates Oversight Committee for the City of San Diego Public Utilities Dennis Cushman, assistant general manager, San Diego County Water Authority

News that residents in Rancho Santa Fe received the highest public health turf removal has caused a lot of comments. According to data obtained by the San Diego Tribune by apostles received the top rebates in the Metro pulse and water districts cash progress program. How much did those households get? The pants ration $48-$70,000. That the community are both medium income and home prices double the countywide average. It's a story guarantees generate considerable public outrage. Perhaps the larger story is the incredible popularity of the trip debate programs and whether those programs are getting the proper oversight. First, Bill McDonnell, water use efficiency manager, Metropolitan Water District was in able to join us but we asked him questions earlier today. How much money was allocated for the program? Over the last two fiscal years we allocated $450 million for conservation rebates. >> Concerning how much money waiting put into the program wasn't there an original cap on the amount of funds for anyone residents could receive? When the program first started, we had a rebate program for two -- turf removal for a few years and didn't get a lot of activity. We increased the value to two dollars, we didn't put a cap on it's because basically tried to get some momentum trying to get people to sign up and get the ball rolling down the hill. We didn't want to restrict right out of the gate. What's the cap now? Now we have a $6000 cap on residential customers in a larger cap for commercial. >> The cash progress program stopped accepting applications in July because it was out of money. Winter expected to resume? >> In July, with applications that matched our budgets who stopped taking applications. What we're doing now is creating a wait list of customers in some of our applicants either choose not to participate, we create a wait list and a dropout list. Were going back to our board in November to see if we can marry those two things. If there timeframe with it could resume. If you're not on the wait list, it probably wouldn't resume until next fiscal year if at all. Would have to go to our board with a new program. Currently if somebody signs of today, they would be put on a wait list and depending on how me people are on the way listen how many dropout with depend on how many people can participate. Are waitlist now is 14 million . Are dropout is about 9 million. Where the rebates coming from? May come from a variety of places. We water management funds which are similar, funds that go to recycling and conservation and other types of progress. They are coming from existing budgeted funds. >> Are some from higher water rates? Know. They are not from higher water rates but from sales. >>'s you pass it down the line? So These are funds that were purposely set aside to do water management programs, conservation is a water management program. These funds are set aside for doing those types of things. That's what they are being used or. >> That was Bill McDonnell, water use efficiency manager, Metropolitan Water District . Joining me now, are Dennis Cushman, assistant general manager, San Diego County Water Authority Gordon Hess, Independent Rates Oversight Committee for the City of San Diego Public Utilities and . >> Gordon, you brought up concerns about the Metropolitan water District turf bit program or bothered you most about that? So >> There are three things. The thing that raise my attention first was the amount of money that was being contemplated. At that time, it was $150 million. Since then it's jumped to $450 million. Of that, 25% comes from San Diego go County residents. About 50 million our residents of the city of San Diego. Those the people I represent on the oversight committee. It's our money they're spending. You concerned about how they're spending it, is that right? Yes. It didn't appear to me that it was very much oversight in the program. At the time, you need to send in a few pictures of before and send in some more pictures of after. And they would send you a check. They have put some limits on the program, I don't think they changed the way the program is being verified and ensuring the money is being spent does not properly. I understand one of the problems the county has with the districts rebate program is that you say it's being funded by higher water rates. We just heard from Bill McDonald that that's not true. >> Neither is free lunch to also, there's always a cost. Every time much Boston have spent on the turf replacement program is coming from ratepayers. In the last couple years Metropolitan over collected from ratepayers $850 million. They said someone without an budget revenue aside into the water management plan which is intended to not just to conservation but to acquire water supplies during this drought. Now they spent every dime of that fund on turf removal program. >> The city of San Diego has its own turf rebate program and all the funds for that, 1.2 million for fiscal 2016 were gone in one day. Because of so much public interest in this program. How're the space requirements different from the Metropolitan water districts? >> The city is required to conserve water. They required by the governor's order. They need to save 60% of their water. In the city of San Diego is spending -- or sending $50 million up to Metropolitan to help others conserve water to the rebate program is not helping the city unless that money comes back to the city. We need to make sure that money is being spent according to whose paying into the product. They need to perceive their fair share. With the turf rebate program it's pretty well-documented than initially don't really save much water because you have to replace your turf, you have to put in new plants, they require an awful lot of water to be established. I was specifically talking about the fact you're talking with a Metropolitan water District sending up photograph, and the after photograph. What kind of requirements does the city of San Diego have in granting these rebates? >> I'm not familiar with exactly how they operate their program. Their budget is fairly small. I think the increase is to the drought. They don't spend a lot of money on turf programs. Most of that money goes into public education programs. >> The County water authority had a program which ended in January, is that Ray? >> Yes. We had a program that was far more modest than what Metropolitan has done. It was funded with grant money rather than rate money. We had some successful grants to fund that. Comparing the two programs is like night and day. The water authority program maintained stick -- stringent controls. Homeowners could not use any of the incentive money the labor we had follow-up audits conducted, Metropolitan doesn't require receipts, now they require receipts if your project is over hundred thousand dollars. >> The County water concentrated on making example projects can explain it was. >> It's really a critical feature from the water authority's program. >> We put dollar limits we could spread the amount of money on this money properties as we could. Because he turf replacements and you ask them how did you -- how did that turn out. We did not find people who put in 100% artificial turf or gravel. We went to make the transformation at the landscape without retracting from property values and quality of life >> I believe a lot of people have very strong feeling that really doesn't help our problem. Conserve water for a little while but in the long term we run into problems with that. I think some of the news reports that have come out talking about the program, so the groundwater programs are concerned about the program because it creates more impervious surfaces and that creates more runoff they are not charged are recharged by fees to be. That something that really ought to be considered when designing a program is one of the extra impacts you may have besides some potential water saving programs. There may be impacts to the groundwater or the runoff that goes into the sewer or the storm drains. Would perhaps like to see a program where people like to see people put in trip irrigation or the maintenance foliage of some kind rather than artificial turf or something that might create more heat in an urban setting like gravel, is that right? >> It depends on the application. Artificial turf in a ball field or something that gets heavy use is probably a really good thing in terms of maintenance and things of that nature. I'm certainly not against artificial turf. I think for homeowners, the water use plants have a much better impact on the environment than gravel or artificial turf. >> Dennis, apparently there's a lot of interest in these turf rebate programs. The city of San Diego said its entire budget for next fiscal year basically disappeared in one day. Because they got so much interest. Is the County water authority thinking about how to roll out program like this that may go along with the specifications we have about it because apparently a lot of people would like to take out their lawns but they need a little help to get. I don't think popularity should be the measure of whether you're running a publicly responsible conservation incentive program. I think what Metropolitan ran into is they created frenzy for the dollars I can to handing out hundred dollar bills at a street corner. Are going to gather a crowd. This you probably have said is the incentive amount to much? The whole programs are intended to catalyze and inspire people to convert their landscape. That works. Departing in greater numbers than ever before. That's a great opportunity to say if were ever going to to that in the future, how would we go about that? Were looking at the next step and water conservation landscaping which is sustainable landscapes. That's a landscapes that doesn't contribute to runoff and that sort of thing. It's a more sophisticated, more aesthetically pleasing, more comprehensive job for homeowners to have. >> I want to bring this home with the idea that the story about keep bull in Rancho Santa Fe which is known as a very wealthy, affluent community getting a total of $288,000 from the Metropolitan water District internal rebates is an immediate sort of outreach for people. They get all upset. In their defense. A lot of water wasting lawns are gone because of this rebate program. Rancho Santa Fe you see one of the biggest water users in the county, water uses downtown 30 to 40%. Isn't that we turf rebate program is supposed to do, what actually happened here in Rancho Santa Fe. >> I don't believe they would achieve that to turf replacement . They've done an outstanding job as a community to conserve water. Turf replacement may be in part of that but the more outreach the water district is doing excellent staff, the community coalescing as all of San Diego County around the conservation, water use is down in July, 32% . Hellos water use in San Diego County since 1975 . When you think about what San Diego County looked like in 1975, that's a tremendous success. They're doing an excellent job, they are doing their part. They also rightly purchased turf replacement program that's not met -- Metropolitan money, it's our ratepayers money. It's an -- they participated in a program without was poorly designed but they did so poorly and successfully. >> Dennis Cushman, assistant general manager, San Diego County Water Authority And Gordon Hess, Independent Rates Oversight Committee for the City of San Diego Public Utilities thank you very much.

Drought conservation efforts by the Metropolitan Water District have come to a halt - at least when it comes to their turf replacement rebate program.

The Metropolitan Water District program for homeowners and commercial properties across Southern California ran out of money in July. It gave $288,000, including grants as large as $70,000, to homeowners in Rancho Santa Fe, according to data obtained by The San Diego Union-Tribune.

There was no cap on the amount of money one homeowner could receive because in previous years, there wasn't much interest in the turf rebate program, Bill McDonnell, a water use efficiency manager with Metropolitan Water District, told KPBS Midday Edition.

"Basically we were trying to get some momentum and trying to get people to sign up and get the ball rolling down the hill, so we didn't want to restrict it right out of the gate," he said.

There is now a cap of $6,000 for residential property owners, McDonnell said.

The program ran out of money in July. McDonnell said new customers likely won't be able to get rebates until next year "if at all."

Gordon Hess of the City of San Diego Public Utilities Independent Rates Oversight Committee said 25 percent of the Metropolitan Water District's turf rebate program funds comes from San Diego residents' water bills. He said there isn't enough oversight to be sure the money is being spent properly.