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Ashland rebate program helps make yards less thirsty

The city of Ashland’s residential lawn replacement program offers rebates for the removal of live, maintained and irrigated lawns that are replaced with climate appropriate, low-water-use landscapes and efficient irrigation systems. Since the program’s inception in June 2014, 120 residences have taken advantage of the offer, with 30 more projects in progress. To date, approximately $70,000 has been spent, with individual grants averaging between $500 and $600. The maximum amount rebated per project is $1,500.

Julie Smitherman, Ashland’s water conservation specialist, reports that Ashland’s lawn replacement program is the first of its kind in Oregon. Homeowners said that Smitherman and her colleagues were easy to work with and that the program is run very efficiently. After receiving “authorizations to proceed,” homeowners reported that it took between three weeks and three months to finish their conversions. Program rules state that approved projects must be accomplished within six months of completing the agreement with the city.

The amount of rebate for individual properties is calculated at 75 cents per square foot for the first 1,000 square feet, 50 cents per square foot up to 2,000 square feet, and 25 cents per square foot up to 3,000 square feet. Projects of more than 3,000 square feet are considered on a case-by-case basis, such as the Mountain Meadows retirement community that replaced nearly 20,000 square feet of lawns, realizing a 50 percent reduction in landscaping water usage.

Numerous rules apply, one of which is that the landscape conversion must demonstrate a reduction in water use from previous years. In fact, the savings have been considerable. Pam and Ron Parker of 501 Schofield St. said that their water bill is down about 50 percent. Dennis Kendig of 870 Cypress Point Loop reported a drop of 75 percent immediately after conversion. Beth Geismar and Torsten Heycke of 323 High Street have also seen a favorable reduction in their water bills, although Geismar pointed out that savings will be even greater when the new drought-tolerant plants are better established. All reported being happy that they participated in the replacement program, although all spent much more than the city rebated to them.

Although many homeowners have chosen to apply a bark ground cover to most of the area previously covered by thirsty grass, Kendig, working with landscape architect Karen Marshall and installer Alan Tuck, chose gravel in the front yard and a combination of flagstones, decomposed granite and synthetic grass in back. He also added a specially commissioned metal sculpture to the front.

As did many others, the Parkers added boulders for visual interest. As Pam Parker said, “you never have to water rocks!” At completion, converted areas must contain enough plants to create at least 50 percent living plant cover at maturity and watering systems must be replaced with low volume irrigation. Ron Parker heard about the program when he invited Smitherman to speak at a Kiwanis meeting earlier this year. The Parkers live in a Firewise community at the north end of Ashland.

The Geismar/Heycke household added a bocce ball court, with a sand base, that takes up a good portion of what was previously lawn in their front yard. Because their yard is terraced, the court is not visible from the street.

Applicants who have lawns that they never water, but who plan to relandscape with plants that do require even occasional watering, would not be eligible for the rebate because water usage could actually increase rather than decrease.

Among the many noteworthy completed projects were Helen and Jim Orr’s home at 407 Clinton St., Donald Hunsaker’s home at 448 Clinton St., Dayna Rohden’s home at 502 Clinton, Philip Stanley’s home at 123 Cypress Circle, Kevin Stout’s home at 127 Cypress Circle, and Mary and John Hunt’s home 876 Cypress Point Loop. Note the multiple projects in some neighborhoods, where residents have been inspired by their neighbors’ success.

Ruth Sloan is an Ashland Garden Club member.