California's drought is creating a deluge of tattletales, after government officials encouraged residents to snitch on their neighbors for wasting water.
The state declared a drought emergency five months ago, but residents have only cut their water usage by about 5 percent, reports The New York Times
, cutting back much less than the 20 percent Gov. Jerry Brown asked for in January.
And since people aren't heeding the warnings from the state, cities in the state are asking residents to report their neighbors for wasting water, and are finding that people are all too willing to tell on each other.
Sacramento has already received 6,000 reports this year, or 20 times more than last year, and proudly posted a comparative photo on Twitter showing its lawns turning from green to gold.
Loretta Franzi, who insists she doesn't feel comfortable telling on people she knows, says she's called the hotline "a number of times" in recent months.
"You can hear people running their sprinklers when it’s dark because they don’t want to get caught watering when they’re not supposed to be — it’s maddening,” Franzi, a 61-year-old retiree told The Times. "You can tell the people who are conserving because their lawns are brown. The lawns that are really green, there’s something wrong."
Franzi said her neighbors are now looking at each other, and one elderly woman in her 90s is convinced she's the one who turned her in, which she denies.
As a result of informants like Franzi, Sacramento has handed out more than 2,000 violations since January, including some to Franzi's neighbors. The enforcement means Sacramento and its surrounding region has reduced its water consumption by 10 percent from previous years, marking the highest amount saved statewide.
"It’s becoming a competition to not have the greenest lawn anymore," said Sacramento Utilities Director Dave Brent. "You want to have a lawn that’s alive but on life support.”
And some Californians aren't just tattling on each other, but going out of their way to shame water wasters on social media, on the radio, and other public places.
They're trying to embarrass their neighbors and relatives for taking long showers, washing their cars, and watering their lawns, reports The Times.
"Is washing the sidewalk with water a good idea in a drought @sfgov?” Sahand Mirzahossein, a 32-year-old management consultant tweeted, posting a picture of a San Francisco city employee hosing off a sidewalk.
Officials at water agencies around the state say they don't want to shame people, but instead are calling the conservation push an "education" or even a "competition.
But still, they're hoping to spark a public sense of outrage when it comes to wasting water. In Los Angeles, residents will be able to get door hangers that they can hang anonymously on the doorknobs of neighbors whose sprinklers also water sidewalks along with their grass, to remind them about the drought and water rules.
And the Irvine Ranch Water District is also turning the shortage wars into a competition, showing resident how their water use compares with their neighbors and putting labels on customers' bills that label them as either being "low volume" or "wasteful."
Such actions underscore the seriousness of the situation, said State Water Resources Control Board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus.
"Just showing people what they’re doing vis-à-vis their neighbors motivates them," said Marcus. "Shaming comes in when you’re worse. You want to be as clever as your neighbor."
But then there are neighbors who are using the informant hotline to get back at neighbors over old grudges.
"You get people who hate their neighbors and chronically report them in hopes they’ll be thrown in prison for wasting water,” said Eileen Cross, Santa Cruz’s water conservation manager.
Marcus said that it's especially difficult to get people in urban areas like Los Angeles and San Francisco to cut back, as they're not seeing the water woes going on across the state.
"I might turn the faucet off when I’m brushing my teeth or something,” said Ragan Wallake, 34, a West Hollywood resident. "But I don’t feel like that three seconds of turning off the water is going to make a difference.”
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