Find out what rebate and incentive programs there are available in San Diego County.

September 2016

ocean friendly garden CarlsbadWhen talking landscape rebates, the first thought is turf removal rebates. Up until mid 2015, these were fairly widely available but then they all dried up. While the governor announced funding for more rebates, this funding was directed at Disadvantaged Communities mostly located in the San Joaquin Valley.  

In San Diego County the only turf removal rebates are now called ‘incentives’, and are being funded under the San Diego Sustainable Landscapes Program. The program incentives will pay out $1.75/square foot of turf removed, and for those living in the City of San Diego, the city will add an additional $0.50, bringing the total to $2.25/square foot. Most residential landscapes are around 500-1000 square foot, so the total incentive value is $875-$1750 for those outside the city of San Diego, and $1125-$2250 if you live within the city.

The big question everyone is asking: When? The latest news we have says October, but don’t be surprised if that date changes.

But there is a catch: the Sustainable Landscapes Program is not just about saving water, it’s also about improving water quality in our waterways and at the beach. In order to qualify for this program, homeowners will not only have to remove turf areas, but they will need to show that they have:

  1. Redirected rainwater into their landscape.
  2. Added compost and mulch to improve the water holding capacity of the soil.
  3. Planted climate appropriate plants on that area to give at least a 50% coverage at maturity.
  4. Upgraded their irrigation system to drip or efficient rotary nozzles (i.e. Hunter’s MP Rotators), or are choosing to water by hand.

There are a few other boxes to check too:

  • Homeowners will be eligible only if they have an in-ground automatic irrigation system.
  • The existing turf can be dead or alive, but it must obviously have been turf at some point.
  • There are minimums and maximums:
    • 400 square feet of rainwater capture is the minimum;
    • 500 square feet of turf to be removed is a minimum;
    • 3000 square feet is the maximum
    • 30% of moderate water use plants is a maximum
  • Any areas of turf that are replaced with impermeable surfaces (concrete, decomposed granite (DG), etc) will be subtracted from the total square footage.
  • Materials only are going to be reimbursed so plan on holding on to all those receipts, and either doing the labor yourself or paying for that out of pocket.
  • No work is to start until the pre-inspection visit has taken place, and approval has been given.
  • Homeowners will then have 120 days to complete their project, although extensions will be granted if requested.
  • Expect to have a post inspection visit upon completion, and then to wait 2-3 months for the check to arrive.

You can sign up now to be notified when the incentive program launches, but just make sure you are watching out for that notification and you jump on it. There is an expectation that the program will be very popular.

rain barrel and chainThere are some other rebates and incentives that might help you make some improvements to your landscape now:

  • Weather based irrigation controllers or Smart Controllers – Incentives start at $80 per controller for residential sites with less than one acre of landscaping. For residential sites with landscapes one acre or larger, incentives start at $35 per station. Rebates cannot exceed the purchase price of the controllers.
  • Rotating sprinkler nozzles –  The SoCal Water$mart Program offers rebates starting at $2 per rotating nozzle for residential properties. A minimum of 30 nozzles must be purchased. Idea: team up with a neighbor if you don’t need 30 nozzles.
  • Rain barrels & other water storage devices – Homeowners within the County of San Diego can get rebates of up to $75 each on residential rain barrels (up to 2 per home) OR $250-$350 for a cistern, depending on capacity. For those living within the City of San Diego can additionally receive up to $1 per gallon of barrel storage capacity for residential rainwater harvesting (rain barrel) rebate program, up to 400 gallons and $400 per property. Do note that these are two separate rebate programs, each with their own application process and eligibility criteria.
  • Soil moisture sensors – A soil moisture sensor measures soil moisture content in the active root zone on your property. SoCal Water$mart eligible soil moisture sensor systems must include a sensor and a calibrator (these are typically packaged together in the same device) and an irrigation controller. Rebates start at $80 or $35 per irrigation sensor for large residential sites.

And don’t forget some water saving improvements you can make inside the home:

  • High efficiency clothes washer rebates
  • High efficiency toilet rebates
  • Free watersmart checkups

For information about how to apply for these rebates visit:

The rebates and incentives discussed here are a moving target, so do your homework and check to see you might be eligible.

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Diane Downey and Sheri Menelli specialize in earth-friendly landscaping practices, including vegetable gardening, rainwater capture, soil health, native plants, and efficient irrigation. Diane is a professional landscape designer with over 10 years’ experience, and Sheri is a certified permaculture designer with a six-year-old food forest in her backyard. Combined, they have over two decades of teaching experience. Their classes are taught to the public in the classroom, in the field, and via one-on-one garden coaching sessions.
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