SAWS coupon program working to encourage water cutbacks

Customers get free plants, mulch for removing grass

SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Water System is reporting big success with a coupon program it's using to encourage homeowners to remove water-thirsty turf grass.

During certain periods of the year SAWS offers customers a $100 coupon for plants and mulch if they will remove 200 square feet of turf grass and cap any irrigation heads in the area.

Karen Guz, SAWS Conservation Director, said taking out 200 square feet of sunny, irrigated turf grass can save SAWS and the customer up to 4,000 gallons of water a year.

"It saves money for everybody in San Antonio when we can make ourselves less dependent on putting water on our landscapes in the heat of the summer," Guz said. "We're looking for ways to help people to overcome the challenges to changing to a water saver landscape."

Last spring 1,321 coupons were redeemed, in the fall it was 829, and this spring it was 1,395 coupons.

"We have gotten a much better response than we ever hoped for when we started," Guz said. "We figured out that there were a couple barriers. One is people feeling like they needed a little more guidance. They wanted to know what kind of plants should I plant, how should I do this, give me a design."

Lauren Burns is one customer who redeemed two coupons.

She did not enjoy mowing her large Timberwood Park lot and did not like paying a high water bill to keep the grass green.

"I got online and started looking up rebates," Burns said. "I thought, 'I would like to save some money and see what's out there.' We went to some of the nurseries and I gave the coupon to one of the employees and they just helped me out. They knew exactly what to do. And I got to go pick $100 worth of plants and come home and plant it. Everything's still alive thankfully."

She now has a mulched bed of drought-resistant and native plants, all free.

"I think it's a great idea," Burns said. "I don't want all this grass. I don't want to have to keep watering it nonstop."

Guz said the utility has not quite calculated the water savings yet.

"We know that we have eliminated irrigated turf grass by thousands of square feet, so that should end up with some pretty good savings for us," Guz said.

She said SAWS also has a crew of inspectors that make sure people redeeming coupons do what they promised.

"If you fail to do that - you redeem your coupon and you do not do what we asked you to - you're not eligible for any more conservation incentives or rebates until you fix it," Guz said.

Brad Wier is a conservation consultant and one of those who inspects coupon participants.

"So it's just about 200 square feet," Wier said, inspecting one customer's yard. "It's a little more."

He makes sure the proper amount of turf has been taken out, the sprinkler head is capped and the system is set right.

"I'll just set it to come on at seven pm in the evening," Wier said. "Everybody's watering from 7-11, I'll just change that over for you."

The goal is to make sure water is not wasted.

It also reduces the need for SAWS to find new water sources.

SAWS also has a coupon program for putting in patios that is on right now through the end of August.

The landscape program ends July 31 and will resume Sept. 2.