L.A.’s Massive Turf Removal Program Was Fraught With Errors and Poor Oversight

The program responsible for all those succulents and gravel on lawns across Los Angeles was awash in problems and mismanagement, according to a recent audit.


The Metropolitan Water District’s massive $340-million turf rebate program — which helped thousands of Southern Californians rip out their lawns in favor of drought-tolerant landscaping — was plagued by poor planning and oversight by the agency, a new audit found.


The rebate program was a key element of California’s drought response, and officials say it helped residents conserve water. But the audit found that the MWD did a “less than satisfactory” job administrating the program due to “inadequate planning, execution, and follow-up.”


There were failures to perform required inspections of new lawns and possible overpayment of a contractor. In some cases, applicants were paid to remove much more turf than was actually removed.

The program may have been a victim of its own success. Its popularity soared after MWD doubled the size of its rebate to $2 per square foot in 2014 and again in 2015 when MWD injected another $350 million into the program. Watchdogs long worried that its immense size was a recipe for trouble in the absence of adequate oversight, and it turns out they were right.

MWD spokesman Bob Muir acknowledged inadequacies, but kept the focus on the programs’ achievements.

“It was extraordinary what [the program] was able to accomplish. We were more than satisfied with how the program was managed. We know that we can do better and we need to do better.”

Deven Upadhyay, an MWD manager, has since said many of the problems flagged by the review were dealt with. In addition to the changes that were implemented, he said MWD "will incorporate the recommendations into the design of any potential turf removal programs … in the future.”


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