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Loans help get owners off grass

Are you ready to rip out your lawn but you just don’t have the green?

If you live in Henderson, you’re in luck.

The city is about to launch a low-interest loan program to help residents cover the up-front costs of their landscape conversions.

"It’s a way to conserve water without costing taxpayers one dime," said City Councilman Steve Kirk, who developed the idea with fellow Councilman Jack Clark.

"Government often gives people direction to do things like save water but not the means to do it," Kirk said.

Under the one-year pilot program approved by the council on Tuesday, residents will be able to borrow up to $5,000 at 3 percent interest over seven years.

The initiative in Henderson will work in conjunction with the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s turf rebate program, which pays residents and business owners $1.50 for every square foot of turf they replace with water-efficient landscaping.

The rebates generally cover only a portion of the costs involved with a landscape conversion, and the money doesn’t come in until the work is done.

Kirk said he has spoken to a number of people who want to take out their lawns but can’t afford to front the money for the work.

About a third of people who apply for rebates from the authority end up withdrawing from the program early, and some of them cite the costs involved.

"We know that is a barrier to people’s participation," said Doug Bennett, conservation manager for the water authority.

Henderson’s loan program could help with that.

"I think it’s a great idea. It’s very innovative," Bennett said.

A total of $290,000 has been set aside for the pilot program, enough for about 50 loans. The city’s Neighborhood Services Department plans to begin taking applications for the money on Sept. 2.

"I think we’ll know pretty quickly what the interest is" in the program, said Kathleen Richards, spokeswoman for Henderson’s Utility Services Department.

The loans can only be used to replace turf at a homeowner’s primary residence, and only if that home gets its water from the city.

As part of the approval process, loan applicants will be required to enroll in the water authority’s turf rebate program and comply with its rules.

Authority spokesman J.C. Davis said the process is pretty easy. All it takes is a one-page registration form followed by a pre-work inspection of your lawn a few weeks later.

"The single most important thing to remember is don’t tear anything up until you apply and have your pre-site inspection. We have to be able to demonstrate it was an irrigated landscape," Davis said.

Participants generally receive a rebate check a few weeks after the conversion is done and an inspector signs off on it. "We don’t make them wait very long," Davis said.

Those who borrow money from the city will have the option of keeping the rebate from the authority or using it to pay back a portion of the loans.

Kirk might apply for one himself. He has been thinking about getting rid of his front lawn for some time now. "I think we’ll get it taken care of in the next few months."

Kirk is Henderson’s representative on the water authority board of directors. He lives in an area of north central Henderson that ranks as one of the valley’s grassiest neighborhoods, according to a list compiled last year by the authority.

Since the turf rebate program debuted in 1999, nearly 112 million square feet of water-guzzling grass — enough to cover more than 233 football fields — has been removed from homes and businesses.

The program, which has paid out almost $110 million in rebates, is now credited with saving more than 24 billion gallons of water, roughly a one-year supply for a quarter of a million homes.

Richards said Henderson has eliminated some 14 million square feet of turf so far, including 1 million square feet that was stripped from public parks throughout Henderson.

By some estimates, Nevada’s second-largest city still contains as much as 100 million square feet of grass.

Kirk hopes to see the loan idea applied to other things. In the coming months, he said, city officials will begin discussions on a similar program to encourage the use of solar power in Henderson.

Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350.

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