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As California — and wide swaths of the west, south and southwest — struggles with high temperatures and drought, towns are taking increasingly drastic measures to preserve water.
In Nevada, some towns have paid residents to remove their lawns, and homeowners are banned from planting grass. In rural California, one sheriff was stationed at a lake to ensure that residents didn’t steal water. And in New Mexico, one town used only bottled water for several days last year.
It’s with that backdrop that Sacramento, California, has undertaken the state’s most aggressive water patrols, reasoning that state-wide restrictions do not go far enough. In February, Sacramento deputized 40 employees, whose job now includes driving around the city, reporting and responding to water waste.
In only three months the city has received more than 3,200 water waste complaints, compared to 183 the previous year. Here & Now’s Robin Young talks to Ryan Geach, one of Sacramento’s water patrol employees, about the city’s conservation efforts.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
So, with the heat and the drought, some Californians better watch out for the water police. In one rural town, a sheriff has been stationed at a lake, so residents don't steal water. And Sacramento, California has deputized 40 employees to cite people for things like hosing down driveways, which is banned.
One of these new wastewater patrol members is Ryan Geach. And Ryan, what other kinds of infractions are you looking for?
RYAN GEACH: Well, the main ones that we see, there's no watering on Monday, Thursday and Friday, so watering on the wrong days and gutter flooding.
YOUNG: Gutter flooding.
GEACH: Correct. That is when you're just watering too long, and it's just flooding the pavement and gutters. Last year at this time, you were allowed three days a week watering. Now you're only allowed two days a week watering.
YOUNG: We see in other towns patrols like yours go out at night, first of all, to check and see if people are cheating, but also to test and make sure, for instance, faucets aren't leaking.
GEACH: Correct. We run into a lot of water fixtures that are leaking, and that's another area where we enforce on, also safety issues, where water has been running off for some time, and it's never been repaired, and those are other issues that we look at, as well.
YOUNG: Well, first of all, we understand in three months, you've got more than 3,200 water waste complaints. That's compared to 183 from a year ago. Are these people turning in their neighbors?
GEACH: Some are, and some are on patrols. Our complaints this year alone is almost 5,000, compared to last year at 1,747.
GEACH: I mean, we're trying to educate our rate payers, and with that, you know, comes enforcement. And we're actually trying to help people conserve water, and we have ways to helping them. We have advanced metering infrastructure. So we can track customers if it has a water leak, or if it has high consumption. So we have the tools to actually identify problems, as well, to be more proactive.
YOUNG: Yeah. You can track how they're using water.
YOUNG: Yeah. Overall, how are people responding to this?
GEACH: Overall, pretty good. Most people are really - they understand that we're in a drought, and they're doing their part to conserve. And the few that, you know, are resistant, unfortunately, they can be fined if they don't follow our city ordinances.
YOUNG: What are the fines?
GEACH: The first one is a warning. The second one is a $50 fine. And if you take a conservation class, it can be waived. The next one is a $200 fine, and then the fourth one could be a $1,000 fine.
YOUNG: Whoa, that's no kidding around. And just briefly, what else can you tell someone in a conservation class besides don't water your lawn so much that it runs into the gutter?
GEACH: So, we talk a little bit at our programs. You know, we've had toilet rebates since 2004, clothes washer rebates shortly after that. We're in the process of turf replacement program.
YOUNG: You talk about turf replacement. There are towns in Nevada that are actually paying people to remove their lawns, and they're not allowed to plant new grass in return. Do you see that coming?
GEACH: Hopefully, that'll be kicking off sometime this year. We're in the process of that.
YOUNG: You'll pay people to take out their lawns?
GEACH: Correct, 50 cents a square foot.
YOUNG: That's Ryan Geach, one of 40 water conservation specialists in Sacramento, California. Thank you so much for talking to us.
GEACH: Thank you so much.
YOUNG: Wow, selling your lawn. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.