According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, 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,” according to the story.
As a result, MWD auditors concluded that the agency may have overpaid a contractor tasked with inspecting turf replacements, and that the contractor also may have failed to perform some critical inspections it was required to carry out.
The findings represent perhaps the most scrupulous examination of the popular but costly lawn removal program, which was designed to help urban Californians sharply reduce their outdoor water use during the drought.
Residents began flocking to the program after MWD doubled the size of its rebate to $2 per square foot in 2014, and it grew exponentially after MWD poured an additional $350 million into the conservation program a year later.
Some watchdogs have long feared that the size of the program would lead to waste — and possibly fraud — without strong oversight.
During the period that auditors reviewed, MWD received more than 85,000 applications to remove about 270 million square feet of turf. More than 46,000 of those applications were approved for a payout of $239 million.