California Takes Steps to Force Residents to Pay Attention to Water Restrictions

CALABASAS, California – Nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains, the average home here costs about $ 1.8 million, the gardens are bursting with pensions suitable for rainy England, and heavy fines have not prevented many homeowners from wasting water in times of drought. .

A measure of last resort came this week. The local water agency began suffocating the faucets of the worst offenders, limiting the flow of water to those who violated water conservation rules, paid the fines, and continued to disrespect. Their rains will slow down from now on. Sprinklers will be unusable. Good luck refilling the pool. Or the koi pond.

“This is not our preferred way to interact with our customers,” David Pedersen, the head of Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, told me. “We’re in a situation where we can’t have customers wasting water.”

Water is the great ghost of Southern California. There was not much water here until half a century ago, when great engineers began to move snowmelt and rain hundreds of miles to the north, polka dot these parched hills with emerald lawns.

Now, climate change is haunting that ghost. The state is in the third year of extreme drought. Reservoirs are low. And water agencies need to take extreme measures to get through the dry, hot summer months ahead. Climate change is no longer a future risk, Pedersen says. “We need to adapt now.”

In late April, the Southern California Metropolitan Water District, which supplies local water agencies such as Pedersen’s, declared a water shortage crisis and demanded the strictest water cuts ever in the region.

Los Angeles’ 4 million residents are now limited to watering their backyards no more than twice a week, for 8 minutes above, and before 9 a.m. or 4 p.m., when the water is least likely to evaporate due to heat. (You get a little more irrigation if you have water conservation aids and you get a break if you grow food by drip irrigation.)

Water should not flow from your own line. You don’t have to walk down your driveway or sidewalk or wash your car at home (something I learned to do as a teenager because I grew up in Southern California and that’s what we all did) unless you’re using a hose with a self-closing water wrench. There are large fines of up to $ 600.

It is worse in a number of suburbs, including the expensive ones Pedersen serves – Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Hidden Hills and Westlake Village. They sit mostly on volcanic rock. Unlike parts of Los Angeles, they do not have groundwater to rely on in difficult times. They also use a lot of water – an average of 205 gallons per person per day. (For comparison, the average person in the UK uses 37 gallons a day.)

For months, the water agency has been trying to persuade its customers to cut down on the only thing these hills don’t have in excess, which is water. They hired security guards to patrol the neighborhoods and leave warning labels on the doors of houses where the sprinklers are lit in the heat of the day, or water leaks down into the sidewalk. More than 600 households have been warned to exceed their water budgets more than three times. (In 2015, in the last bad drought, Pedersen held out his hand to celebrities living in the area, including Kim Kardashian, urging them to keep.)

This year, penalties have been issued. Penalties were paid. Pedersen acknowledged that penalties do not work.

He took me on a tour of the area one afternoon with one of his conservation monitors. It was afternoon. Sprinklers did not have to be turned on at all. And yet, the sprinklers were blowing in front of one house. The sidewalk was wet.

Pedersen leaned over and looked into the gutter. There was meldu, evidence that water had pooled in the gutter long enough to sprout some tuft of seaweed.

He shook his head.

“This is just a waste. It costs them money and wastes a missing resource, ”Pedersen said. “We are in crisis.”

That crisis was the subject of a four-hour town hall meeting in mid-May.

Residents had many questions. One questioned whether the water shortage would persuade state officials to facilitate a mandate to build affordable housing. Another asked if there were state discounts for swimming pools. A third asked if there was an exemption for a koi pond. (The answer to all three: No.)

Flow restraints have been installed on the taps of 20 homes this week. When the time came, 16 of the homeowners agreed to take new conservation measures. Four had their taps tight. Everyone in the district must limit outdoor watering to once a week, 8 minutes at a time.



The record fires of New Mexico: The fires are an ominous sign for the rest of the West, where the fire season tends to start later but where conditions also hot and dry.

For more than 30 years, Julie Bargmann, landscape architect and founder of DIRT Studio (Dump It Right There) in Charlottesville, Va., Has focused on polluted and forgotten urban and post-industrial sites, devoting her practice to dealing with social and environmental justice. The results are and beautiful and socially conscious.


Thanks for reading. We’ll be back on Tuesday.

Manuela Andreoni, Claire O’Neill and Douglas Alteen contributed to Climate Forward.

Reach us at climateforward@nytimes.com. We read every message, and respond to many!

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