Evaluating the effects of turf-replacement programs in Los Angeles


Water utilities incentivize turf replacement to promote water conservation, but the effects of such programs have received limited evaluations. In 2014, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) undertook an unprecedented investment to incentive turf replacement throughout Southern California in response to a serious Statewide drought. MWD devoted $350 million to the program, resulting in more than 46,000 rebate payments (25,000 in Los Angeles County) to remove 15.3 million square meters of turf. The program implementation provided a unique opportunity to address research gaps on turf replacement implementation. We analyzed socioeconomic and spatial trends of program participants and assessed landscape changes from turf replacement using a random sample of properties (4% of LA County participants in 2014–16). Specifically, we used a novel and cost-effective approach Google Earth Street View to characterize landscapes in front yards and created a typology of land cover types. Results showed: post-replacement landscapes had a diversity of land cover types – diverse yards with several land cover types, as well as more homogenous yards with a single land cover such as woodchips, bare soil, gravel, and artificial turf. Analysis also indicated some evidence of “neighborhood adoption” effects. We describe the need for longitudinal studies to understand long-term effects of turf replacement and associated water use, and suggest that water utilities should also evaluate results in backyards, which requires site visits. This study provides a novel contribution that can be replicated over space and time to further knowledge of turf replacement program implementations and evaluation.

Landscape and Urban Planning