Earth Notes: Treebate Program

Sep 12, 2018

In hot dry climates, urban trees can reduce the intensity of sunlight, block infrared heat exchange—and act as natural evaporative coolers.  Having shade trees to the center or east of a building’s southern façade can cool it by several degrees.

A burr oak in Albuquerque
Credit Courtesy of Carlos Bustos

So for the last five years, the Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority in New Mexico has been providing financial incentives for Albuquerque residents to promote planting shade trees for these valuable services.  

Under their “treebate” program, customers can earn an annual rebate of up to one hundred dollars on their water bill for planting desert-appropriate trees. Costs of professional tree pruning, installing deep watering stakes, and adding water-saving soil amendments to existing trees are also rebate-eligible.

The authority promotes twenty rebate-worthy “smart species” from its xeriscapeguide—with those plants specially tagged at garden centers and big box stores. There’s even a self-guided tree tour on the University of New Mexico campus and at the Rio Grande Botanic Garden. This lets gardeners view different mature trees  before making a purchase.

Arizona ash, desert willow, and New Mexico olive are among the most common native tree choices, but there are many others.

Nearly a thousand treebates were issued in 2017, the most successful year so far. On average, eighty applications are being approved every month.

According to Carlos Bustos, Treebate program manager, “One of the best things you can do for your community is plant a tree that’s right for the area … and doesn’t use a lot of water.”