I walk down a street lined with lawns and trees in the western neighborhood of Hancock Park with Damon Ayala, a patroller with the Department of Water and Environment’s Water Conservation Response Unit Los Angeles Electricity.
We pass a patch of grass and a sidewalk recently wetted by sprinklers. Ayala saw the sprinklers go off – it’s a Wednesday, a day when no one is allowed to water, so he’ll send a citation to the owner. He has already written a few other quotes this morning.
Current rules limit Angelenos to two outdoor watering days: Monday and Friday for odd addresses and Sunday and Thursday for even addresses.
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Ayala said this was the owner’s first warning, but if he breaks the rules again, he will be fined $200. On the fourth offence, it’s $600. (You can get the details on the restrictions from the city of LA here.)
Ayala is one of only eight LADWP specialists to enforce the rules throughout the city. His unit has been colloquially nicknamed “the water cops”, but Ayala prefers a different label.
“We are more like water educators, because our main goal is not to fine anyone…fines don’t help us save water,” he said. declared. “We prefer to educate and achieve behavioral change.”
Usually, when water waste deserves a citation, it’s simply because the owner doesn’t know about it, he said. And the fines do little to stem the flow of LA’s largest and wealthiest residential users, Ayala said. But overall, he saw Angelenos overwhelmingly playing by the rules.
In June, when the restrictions officially began, Angelenos reduced water use by 9% from the same time last year, a record high for that month, and the city is on track to further reduce its consumption in July, according to the LADWP.
The reduction kept LA in line with new monthly water limits, according to the city, and leaves Angelenos using just under an average of about 112 gallons of water per day, down slightly from the April use, despite warmer weather (water consumption tends to increase when it’s warmer). The goal is to reduce this average to 105 gallons.
This means that there is still a long way to go. If water consumption does not appear to drop by at least 35% in the area served by the Southern California Metropolitan Water Districtthe regional wholesaler that supplies water to 19 million people in Southland, including 4 million here in Los Angeles, Southern Californians could face a total ban on outdoor watering as early as fall.
But the Angelenos hold each other accountable. The LADWP received nearly 2,000 complaints about water wastage in June when the restrictions began, a 56% increase from May. Of these cases, LADWP found 49 citation-worthy cases and issued no fines.
Ayala chooses where to patrol largely based on complaints the department receives from residents. He said the increasing volume of calls is a sign that people are aware of the severity of the drought.
“People are aware and our job is to raise awareness and reach out to those who are not,” he said.
Complaints about wasted water come from across the city, but, according to 311 dataso far they have come mainly from some of the highest water-using areas: central Wilshire, which includes Hancock Park, and Brentwood, which is home to the largest share of the city’s biggest water users, according to data shared with LAist by LADWP.
That doesn’t mean people are flouting the rules in these areas — it just means neighbors may be watching each other’s water usage more closely. Last year, before stricter water rules began, residents of Hollywood, Brentwood and Pacific Palisades received the bulk of citations in the city between July, August and September, according to the data provided. at LAist by LADWP.
Hancock Park resident Shlomete Yoo said she thought most of her neighbors were doing their part and playing by the rules.
“A lot of neighbors have stopped by, but there are also people who seem… not to know or have ignored the new regulations,” she said with a shrug and a laugh. “So it’s a mixed bag here.”
She said that she herself uses the rain or gray water collected in barrels to water the trees and plants on their property. The restrictions haven’t affected her much as her family stopped watering their lawn almost as soon as they moved here two years ago.
“We’re New Yorkers, so we’re used to free, plentiful water all the time,” she said. “So when we moved here and saw our first water bill, we were shocked.”
She said it pushed them to save water. Now they’ve learned to live with California’s drought – for the savings and the climate.
Ongoing drought fueled by the climate crisis has left Los Angeles’ largest water supplies at critical levels. More than 40% of the city’s water comes from dwindling reservoirs in northern California. By the numbers, almost all of that water goes to lawns: the city says 35% of its water goes to irrigating the outdoor landscape, mostly in homes. That’s why these restrictions are in place.
I also spoke with a gardener who was mowing a lawn nearby – he declined to give his name, but said his business and the yards he looks after haven’t suffered too much from the new restrictions…yet . He said his biggest concern was worsening heat, both in the forecast this summer and in the long term, as greenhouse gas emissions continue to warm the planet. He felt it himself, he said, wiping his brow when it was 11 a.m.
“It’s going to get hotter and hotter,” he said. “Basically, if politics doesn’t do anything about it…it’s going to be worse.”
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