GREENBACKS FOR GREEN GRASS

Many local utilities across the United States are promoting xeriscape landscaping as part of long-term water conservation plans.

At least 40 states have xeriscape education programs. And a handful of localities have created economic-incentive programs.

"Apple pie and motherhood and all that is going to get you only so much water conservation," says Doug Welsh, past-president of the National Xeriscape Council. "But if you start talking economics and hitting people in the pocketbook, they're going to respond."

The North Marin Water District, 40 miles north of San Francisco, has a "Cash for Grass" program that provides credits or rebates to developers or homeowners who reduce the amount of turf they use. The district offers up to $200 for replacing grass with drought-resistant plants. Replacing grass with pavement doesn't qualify, says John Olaf Nelson, water-district manager.

In the metro-Atlanta area, a summer-surcharge program took effect this year. Residents now pay a surcharge on any summer water use above 130 percent of their winter use. "For instance, if you use 5,000 gallons average in the winter, you would be allowed 6,500 gallons in the summer at the same water rate," says Fox McCarthy, conservation coordinator for the Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority.

The surcharge on water use above this allocation can range from 25 percent to 100 percent, depending on the water authority.

In the long run, homeowners who want wide green lawns may have to pay a high price for the privilege.

"It's very nice to drive down avenues and see a lot of turf," Mr. Nelson says. "If people want that and are willing to pay the costs, they should have the privilege of that choice. It's just our job to put the right market signals in front of them."

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