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The Last Frontier: Best Management Practices for Turf Removal and Landscape Programs

Conner Crane
Isaac Gomez
Foluke Nunn
Scott Welder
Kaitlyn Williams
Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency

As drought conditions persist and population growth continues in California, the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA) must pursue programs and initiatives that reap real benefits for water conservation. To date BAWSCA manages a range of programs, including a turf removal and lawn conversion program, aimed at optimizing water savings. In collaboration with BAWSCA, our team conducted a quantitative analysis of the Lawn Be Gone! program to determine the program’s impact on water use, evaluated program participation rates, and performed a qualitative analysis of independent turf removal programs within the BAWSCA region. These analyses have provided the basis for our recommendations to improve the Lawn Be Gone! program.

This study explored the following research questions:

  • How have BAWSCA agency turf removal and landscape programs impacted water use trends?
  • What elements of a turf removal and landscape program contribute to its effectiveness?
  • How do demographic factors impact participation in turf removal and landscape programs?
  • What recommendations emerge from this study to best improve management practices for BAWSCA’s turf removal and lawn conversion program in the future?

Our results demonstrate two key findings: 1) there has been a significant increase in turf conversion program participation over the past two years, and 2) they appear to be responsible for an observable amount of water savings within the agencies that we studied.

We evaluated the turf conversion programs in five different cities within the BAWSCA region to determine the impact of program participation on water usage trends. We calculated average preand post-conversion water use across program participants. Comparing water use across program participants across five cities, we observed a decline in water use among program participants. However, notably even before program completion, average program participant water use decreased. Therefore, it is difficult to measure the true impact of the conversion programs on water use given the provided data. Other key factors such as the rising water rates and Governor Brown’s drought mandate appear to be correlated with water use trends, and may also explain overall declines in water use.

Additionally, we inspected lawn conversion program participation for five different cities over time, noting sharp increases in program participation in the years 2014 and 2015. We applied these findings to underlying demographic data to illustrate the effect of demographics on participation rates. We also interviewed water agencies to learn what their biggest challenges have been in terms of increasing participation in their respective programs. It appears that publicity around the California drought has been one of the main drivers behind the increase in program participation across the agencies for which we have data.

Based on the results of our analysis, we recommend a framework for analyzing future water savings, measures to reduce overall program costs, and strategies for addressing barriers to program participation. First, to avoid problems associated with inconsistent and inaccurate data, BAWSCA needs to establish a uniform and consistent process for data collection that is used by all agencies within BAWSCA. Second, photo submissions in place of pre-inspections and landscape contractors should be used to cut program costs and aid participants with implementing aesthetically pleasing designs. Finally, a one-stop website should be created to streamline the program process and improve program accessibility. This website would be viewable in multiple languages, and include an online application, sample designs, and resources for program participants.

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