ASHLAND — The city of Ashland has begun offering rebates to water customers who rip up their lawns, take out the sprinklers and put in drought-tolerant plants, mulch, pavers and other landscaping that doesn’t suck up water.
Annual precipitation in Ashland averages 20 inches, water demand more than triples in the summer, and the city depends on the snow pack for its water supply. Last winter, snowfall was so scant that the Mount Ashland ski area didn’t open.
All of Southern Oregon is in a severe drought that could signal generally drier years ahead, so Ashland has looked for new ideas to save water. Giving customers incentives to cut back on summer irrigation is one inspired by similar programs in California and the Southwest.
“We think we’re the first Oregon city,” said Adam Hanks, a management analyst in the city administration.
The city is offering 75 cents a square foot for the first 1,000 square feet of lawn replaced, 50 cents a square foot for the next 1,000, and 25 cents a square foot for the next 1,000.
So, a lawn measuring 30 feet by 100 feet could be eligible for $1,500 in rebates. The rules say projects larger than 3,000 square feet are judged case by case.
To qualify, residents must first get approval from the city, as well as from any homeowners association boards or the like.
The drought this year is so severe that the city says residents who sign up for the lawn-replacement program have to hold off planting drought-tolerant species until October, when water is expected to be more plentiful. They can, though, get approval for their plans and remove the turf grass.
When the city was testing the incentive program, Donald Hunsaker converted his front lawn to wood mulch dotted with boulders and drought-resistant plants such as heather and ornamental bunch grasses.
He had always felt odd to water a front lawn, while at the same time he could see the dry slopes of Grizzly Peak across the valley to the east, Hunsaker said.
“You’re fighting against nature,” he said.
Hanks said Tuesday that the city has received three formal proposals, and it has flexibility to meet heavy demand for rebates.
The rules say the rebates are always subject to funds being available. If demand for rebates rises sharply, the incentives can be dialed back, Hanks said, and the lead time involved in the projects gives managers the ability to make adjustments.