The ongoing megadrought in the American West is bringing about a new kind of patrol. Workers with the Department of Water and Power walk around the city looking for sidewalk puddles—a potential sign of misused water—and investigating community complaints about water waste.
California officials have announced several water restrictions this year, including one that limits outdoor watering to only one day a week. Damon Ayala, part of the inspection team, told AFP that, while they can issue fines for misused water, “We’re trying to get behavioral change.” They write down addresses that show signs of water waste and educate residents about the water restrictions. The first signs of a violation are only followed up with a warning, and repeat offenders are fined up to $600. If a household is found to be violating the water restriction orders for a fifth time, a water limiting device can be installed in the home.
The water restrictions have been effective: A report from the LA Times last week found that the city’s water usage dropped 9% this past June, the lowest water use in the city for any June on record. Gardens and front lawns are browning as people sacrifice their plants to conserve water.
Regular people are doing their part, but A-listers are going more than 200% over their allotted water budgets, a report from CBS News Los Angeles found. Fines aren’t likely to be a deterrent for these millionaires. “We don’t think you can just buy your way out of the drought. Everyone needs to do their part. This is very serious,” Joe McDermott, who works with the Las Virgenes Water District, told CBS2 last week.
The drought is affecting millions of people. After a very dry winter that came with little snowpack to refill California’s water supply, many reservoirs in the state are half empty. Early this June, officials worried that the alarmingly low water levels in the state’s largest reservoirs would strain the ability to produce hydroelectric power. According to reports from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, hydropower under drought conditions only makes up 8% of the state’s power, down from the usual 15%. This could reduce even further if drought conditions continue in the region.