The Marin Municipal Water District is proposing to ban decorative turf on commercial and municipal properties to reduce supply demand from local reservoirs.
The proposal would require most non-functioning turf to be removed over several years. Under the proposal put forward by staff last month, commercial properties would be banned from installing new decorative turf from March.
The ban would not affect residential properties, churches, homeowners association common areas, sports fields, golf course greens and play areas like schools and parks.
The board is due to consider the proposal at a future meeting. The new rules, if passed, could begin in March.
“There are places where we just don’t need grass,” council manager Monty Schmitt said during a presentation last month. “And I think I hope that maybe helps other people to look at their own landscaping and think, ‘Do I really need to have grass there or could I put something else that’s drought resistant?'”
The district, which serves central and southern Marin, estimates there are approximately 73 acres of non-functional grass, such as on road medians and lawns along sidewalks and malls.
According to district water efficiency officer Carrie Pollard, approximately 350 acre-feet of water would be saved each year if the sod were removed. This amount equates to approximately 1.2% of the district’s total potable water demand in 2020, or approximately 28,199 acre-feet. An acre-foot equals approximately 326,000 gallons or the amount of water needed to cover 1 acre under 1 foot of water.
The ban would also set parameters for where and how much turf commercial properties could install.
The district would only allow sod to be planted in an area of at least 1,500 or more contiguous square feet. The total grass area should be at least 30 feet in any dimension. Turf would also not be permitted within 10 feet of a street, sidewalk, parking lot, or other paved surfaces.
Exceptions to the rule could be considered, depending on the circumstances. Pollard, for example, would weed near a babysitting business or veterinary practice.
Last month, staff proposed the program could begin in March, giving commercial properties and municipal governments until January 1, 2025 to remove existing decorative grass. The district would offer a $3 rebate for every square foot of grass removed in 2022 and 2023. The district has already implemented a lawn replacement rebate of $3 per square foot that it has been offering since last year.
The incentive would be reduced to $1 per square foot in 2024 under the proposal; no rebates would be given in 2025. If all existing sod were removed in 2022 and 2023, the district would pay nearly $9.6 million in rebates.
Council Chairman Larry Russell raised concerns about the timing and potential impacts on the district’s budget.
“The timeline is a bit optimistic or draconian depending on how you see it,” Russell said during the Jan. 18 presentation. “I understand the objective, but I mean, let’s look at the financial side.”
Board Director Cynthia Koehler said the cost didn’t seem high compared to projects the district was considering to boost its water supply, such as the $100 million water pipeline project on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.
“Other water supply resilience measures that we are looking at are much more expensive,” Koehler said during the meeting. “I think we should do all of those things, but it seems like a relatively low cost to me compared to some of the other options.”
Board director Larry Bragman said the resulting water savings would also be permanent, meaning the cost of the program would decrease over time.
San Rafael Public Works Director Bill Guerin said the city is looking at ways to reduce its water usage, including converting some of its landscaping to be more drought tolerant.
“Where we don’t need to use a lot of water, we would prefer to use drought-resistant plantings, which are both attractive and don’t use water,” Guerin said. “I think it’s a great motivation. It would be a great benefit for us to stick with a program like this and save a lot of water.
Stan Hoffman, senior property manager for the Village of Corte Madera, said he would also have no objection to removing or replacing the sod with more drought-resistant landscaping. The center already installed drought-tolerant plants and a new irrigation system in its parking lot last year to reduce its water usage.
“While paid incentives would be appreciated by many companies with big projects to solve, we believe that saving water and reducing our water bill would be enough of an incentive,” Hoffman wrote in an email. .
The District Council has expressed an interest in potentially allowing landowners to retain their decorative turf if they are able to water it via rainwater catchment systems or recycled water rather than tapping into district drinking water supplies.
“These are the kinds of long-term changes that we need to support and are entirely consistent with our long-term strategic goals of adapting to climate change,” Bragman said.