Bend Pushes Water-Saving Landscapes | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Bend Pushes Water-Saving Landscapes

City initiatives attempt to conserve more water, offering incentives for low-water landscaping

click to enlarge Bend Pushes Water-Saving Landscapes
Courtesy City of Bend
Before, time and money spent watering and maintaining this patch of grass. After, time spent having fun and relaxing, and saving money and water.

In the spring of 2024, the City of Bend launched its new turf removal rebate program, which allows households to receive a rebate to convert their grass lawns into low-water landscapes, saving water and money.

The pilot program came out of the City's 2021 Water Management and Conservation Plan analysis. Dan Denning, the City of Bend's water conservation program manager, noted that grass lawns can have a community benefit in parks and schools for recreation and gathering spaces. However, it's not the ideal landscape choice for the region as it continues to face water challenges.

"It is not the responsible choice to plant wall to wall in each and every home. Instead, we should be creative about using it in common spaces where it can more easily be managed appropriately and has adequate space to be enjoyed for recreation," said Denning.

According to Denning, Bend's customer water use data shows that homes with high water-use grass lawns use two to three times the amount of water per square-foot on their landscape, compared to a home with more low-water use plant material.

The City's seasonal water demand has a five-time increase in demand during summer months, as a result of landscape irrigation.

"Our analysis showed that a turf removal program was a viable strategy for reducing the volume of water used in the City as well as reducing peak demand hours," said Denning. There are several other benefits to turf removal, said Denning, including reduced chemical inputs of fertilizer and broadleaf herbicides, which affect groundwater quality as well as reduced water bills for customers.

The 2024 program is full, with over 110 applications that account for the entirety of the City's funding for the first year. According to Denning, customers have been inquiring about a turf removal program for a while, so it was no surprise that there was so much interest.

"The amount of applications and the rate in which we received them was astonishing and encouraging to see that so many were already contemplating making the switch to a more regionally appropriate landscape," said Denning.

The program will continue in 2025 and will accept applications in the fall and winter, so applicants have time to coordinate with a contractor and refine their designs.

For individuals who want to keep a lawn, there are other ways of going about it that can help save water and time. Landscaping expert with Bend Pine Nursery, Fred Swisher, noted the drought-resistant, low-maintenance alternative – fescue.

Fescue grass is a native grass that is drought-tolerant. Swisher said he hardly waters his fescue lawn and cuts it about once a year.

Fred talked about how when he was growing up, having a lawn and a picket fence was the dream. "People still, sort of, hold onto that ethos – a lawn being something you have to have," he said. Being a landscaper, Swisher said 90% of people don't even use their lawns.

However, Swisher's noticed that people are starting to come around to grass alternatives or low-water xeriscapes, wanting something that looks natural, is low maintenance and saves money and water. "People are tuning in that there's a different option, that's better," said Swisher.

Denning, with the City of Bend, also noted practices people who still want lawns can do, including proper cultural practices like regular aeration, topdressing with compost, retrofitting spray sprinklers to high-efficiency irrigation and intentional irrigation scheduling. These practices, he said, can minimize the amount of wasted water intended for the lawn.

The City offers other outdoor conservation programs that help assist and educate people on ways to conserve water, rebate and incentive programs for water saving devices and projects.

"The City of Bend has real water reduction goals to buffer ourselves from expensive infrastructure projects and curtailment events. Everyone can participate at some level regardless of their situation," said Denning.

Julianna LaFollette

Julianna earned her Masters in Journalism at NYU in 2024. She loves writing local stories about interesting people and events. When she’s not reporting, you can find her cooking, participating in outdoor activities or attempting to keep up with her 90 pound dog, Finn.
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