19 July, 2014
California is in its third year of drought, or lack of rain. Farmers in California's Central Valley have suffered major reductions in the amount of water they can use. The cuts are threatening agriculture, one of the state's major industries.
At the same time, up to half the water in the city of Los Angeles is used for watering the grass on people's property. But the huge city has strong laws that limit water waste. So, local officials send officers to enforce the laws.
VOA correspondent Mike O'Sullivan took an early morning ride with a Los Angeles water officer.
Rick Silva of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power travels the city in search of illegal watering.
On a recent day, the water officer drives his car up and down the streets of the Hollywood Hills, a rich neighborhood in central Los Angeles. Mr. Silva sometimes pulls over to the roadside when he sees watering systems operating illegally, or water running down the street.
"We've been looking for run-off from lawns, people that are watering on the wrong days, and (working) more just to get them on board that a lot of water is being used towards irrigation (watering), and that there's also a lot of potential savings there."
Fines for homeowners who do not cooperate start at $100. Fines for businesses start at $200. In the future, water-wasters could pay fines of up to $500. But most people who violate city laws get a warning and advice about how to reduce their water use.
Mr. Silva says the city is trying to educate people to save more water. For example, people with houses that have even street numbers are told they can water Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. People whose houses have odd numbers can water Monday, Wednesday and Friday. But nobody can use watering systems between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., or on Saturdays.
Mr. Silva says most people are responsive, once they learn the law.
The city also advises a long-term solution. It suggests homeowners replace their grassy lawns with plants that can live a long time without moisture. The water cop says Los Angeles will pay people three dollars for each square foot, or one tenth of a square meter, that they remove.
This offer has caused some homeowners to put in plants that grow naturally in the mild climate of Los Angeles. These varieties include Cleveland Sage, California Redbud, California Poppy or Deer Grass.
Rick Silva notes that the city has placed a model landscape in a public park. This design of greenery is meant to show people what can be done with special plants instead of grass.
"You see, some of them are flowering now."
Los Angeles reservoirs still has enough water to supply the city. But reservoirs in other parts of the state are at levels far below normal. And the mountain snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains measured 20 percent below normal in May. The mountain snowpack, mountain snow that melts during the summer, provides much of the city's water.
I'm Bob Doughty.
This story is based on report by Mike O'Sullivan; adapted by Jeri Watson and edited by Mario Ritter.