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Stay Off the Grass: Tucson Water to offer incentives for switching to desert landscaping

Incentives target commercial properties like businesses, schools and apartment complexes
Posted at 6:01 PM, May 17, 2024

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Switching from grass to a desert landscape can save the average family 70,000 gallons of water annually, according to the City of Scottsdale.

This summer, Tucson Water will be helping commercial properties like businesses, schools and apartment complexes make the transition by offering financial incentives for switching from grass to desert plants and landscaping.

Candice Rupprecht, Tucson Water’s Water Conservation Manager, explained that the incentives target grass not being used for a specific purpose.

“This is for turf that’s not being used for recreation, not really enjoyable to use or recreate on,” Rupprecht said. “We’re going to incentivize customers removing that and replacing it with desert-adapted landscaping to help reduce water use overall.”

Tucson Water will begin offering the incentives in July of this year.

The program offers $5 for every square foot of grass replaced by desert landscaping. Incentives max out at 20,000 square feet of commercial or multifamily land.

Tucson Water will also offer bonus incentives for trees and passive water harvesting.

At Rozet Nursery on the East Side, manager and lead designer Abby Wing has noticed more Tucsonans shopping for native plants.

“Everyone is trying to save on water, water bills,” Wing said. “Also, I think people really see the importance of what we’re planting.”

However, switching to desert landscaping typically presents some hurdles.

“Landscaping is, you know, can be expensive whether you do it yourself or hire someone,” Wing said. “But it’s so important to make those changes.”

The initiative came about after Tucson Water realized how much water was wasted by the use of grass in non-recreational areas.

“Grass that’s along the side of streets or in front of businesses or apartments, it’s not really being used, isn’t providing much benefit,” Rupprecht said. “So the opportunity is to really prioritize that nonfunctional or ornamental turf.”

Abby Wing believes that the new program can guide the city toward greater sustainability.

“It’s just helpful, you know, to have incentives to make those choices,” she said.

Those interested can complete an interest form on the City of Tucson website to get the process started.

Each applicant will need to submit a plan to the city’s Planning and Development Services department.

Joel Foster is a multimedia journalist at KGUN 9 who previously worked as an English teacher in both Boston and the Tucson area. Joel has experience working with web, print and video in the tech, finance, nonprofit and the public sectors. In his off-time, you might catch Joel taking part in Tucson's local comedy scene. Share your story ideas with Joel at, or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram or X.