Palm Desert joins Rancho Mirage in offering additional turf conversion incentives

The Sept. 15 vote was not unanimous, as one councilmember took state leaders to task for creating a “one size fits all” approach to address the drought, negating the fact the Coachella Valley’s water supply is unique.
While elected officials did approve creating incentives for converting lawns to more drought tolerant landscaping, the vote wasn't unanimous. One councilmember took state leaders to task for a "one size fits all" approach.
Encouraging residents to convert their laws to desert landscaping has been a priority of local water agencies and now cities, including Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage.

Palm Desert became the second Coachella Valley city to hop on the turf rebate program Sept. 15, but the move didn’t come without robust debate.

The news: The Palm Desert City Council approved matching rebates currently offered by the Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD), putting up to $1 million into a fund aimed at encouraging homeowners, HOAs, and commercial property owners to convert lawns into more drought tolerant desert landscape.

  • As approved 4-1, homeowners in the city who apply for the $3 per square foot rebate through CVWD could also apply to receive a matching rebate paid for by the city. Homeowners associations (HOAs) converting their common areas and businesses converting their landscaping could apply for $1 per square foot in city funds to go along with the $3 per square foot currently offered them by CVWD. Turf conversion typically runs between $2 and $5 per square foot.

  • The program would be managed by CVWD and initially be capped at $750,000 for homeowners and $250,000 for HOA and commercial. An additional $500,000 may be made available later.

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Why it matters: The state adopted new emergency water conservation regulations in May, aiming for a more aggressive approach during what has amounted to another severe drought. Water providers, including CVWD, were told to expect a 20% water shortage.

At issue: During nearly an hour of discussion between the Council, city staff, and a representative of CVWD, Councilmember Gina Nestande noted that the Coachella Valley is unlike other areas of the state. She crediting local water managers with keep the aquifer under the valley replenished, but admonished Gov. Gavin Newsom and others for not focusing on long-term solutions to the state’s water shortage such as construction of desalinization plants along the coast.

  • “Gov. Newsom and the state officials treating drought as one size fits all for the whole entire policy for the entire state without considering our conditions which are more favorable than places in other state,” Nestande said before casting the lone no vote. “I don’t see this being fair to our residents and our taxpayers to spend money on a turf rebate program. …While I appreciate the staff efforts and CVWD it just seems like an inefficient way to resolve the drought issue.”

Nestande’s remarks received head nods from other councilmembers, but also a reminder that water from the Colorado River is allotted to the valley, and that it appears to be a dwindling resource.

  • “We all know the Colorado River water is not the boundless resource that it used to be,” said Councilmember Kathleen Kelly. “Conserving usage has to be a part of the program along with every other good idea, whether it be desalinization or whatever.”

  • Added Councilmember Karina Quintanilla, after noting valley residents use three times more water than the state average: “It makes sense to me that we truly take the approach of brotherhood and sisterhood. There is room to grow, room to continue saving our water. We are taking more than our share across the state of California.”

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