Water police on patrol in drought-scarred LA

September 01, 2014 - 12:00:00 am

LOS ANGELES: Los Angeles isn’t the world’s wettest city at the best of times. But a record drought has triggered extra measures — now including “water police” checking on over-zealous sprinkler users and the like.

The Water Conservation Response Unit is a five-strong team from LA’s Department of Water and Power (DWP) utility, who aim to “educate customers about the importance of practicing water conservation”.

The unit’s director Enrique Silva patrols the sprawling metropolis’s neighbourhoods in an ocean-blue car, looking for people wasting water. California is in the grip of its third year of severe drought, the worst in decades, threatening to drain underground aquifers and leaving the taps of some 40 million people to run dry.

Los Angeles has introduced measures to incite people to save water, including giving money to those who replace their lawns by plants more adapted to desert climes and less water-hungry, such as cacti.

But given the urgency, the DWP has also slapped restrictions on users including banning householders from watering their gardens every day or from doing so on the same spot for more than eight minutes, among others. Sprinklers can’t be used in sunlight hours, when evaporation wastes a lot of the water before it can moisten plants or grass.

On patrol, when he finds a lawn which is still wet or puddles on the sidewalk or road, Silva takes photos as evidence of a violation. Back in his office, he writes an official warning letter to the homeowner. “We’re more in an educational phase. We feel that people understand that we are in a drought and we feel that if people know the rules, they’ll comply with them,” said Silva.

“Many people who are watering on the wrong days might not realize that they’re only allowed to water three times a week. So by sending them a letter, we let them know what the rules are and what the potential fines (of up to $100) are if they don’t comply.”