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Drought strategy in California: shaming

Water use under scrutiny

LOS ANGELES — For all the doomsday proclamations about the historic drought that has this state in a chokehold, here is what Californians have done to save water: not much.

In five months since the drought emergency was declared, Californians have cut their water consumption only 5 percent compared with usage in recent years, according to state officials — a far cry from the 20 percent Governor Jerry Brown called for in January.

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So, faced with apparent indifference to stern warnings from state leaders and media alarms, cities across California have encouraged residents to tattle on their neighbors for wasting water — and the residents have responded in droves. Sacramento, for instance, has received more than 6,000 reports of water waste this year, up twentyfold from last year.

Loretta Franzi has called the Sacramento water-waste hot line several 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,” said Franzi, 61, a retiree. “You can tell the people who are conserving because their lawns are brown. The lawns that are really green, there’s something wrong.”

“It’s becoming a competition to not have the greenest lawn anymore,” said Dave Brent, director of utilities in Sacramento. “You want to have a lawn that’s alive but on life support.”

It does get personal. Some drought-conscious Californians have turned not only to tattling but also to an age-old strategy to persuade friends and neighbors to cut back: shaming. On Twitter, radio shows and elsewhere, Californians are indulging in such sports as shower-shaming (trying to embarrass a neighbor or relative who takes a leisurely wash), carwash-shaming, and lawn-shaming.

In Los Angeles, water officials will soon offer residents door hangers that can be slipped anonymously around the doorknobs of neighbors whose sprinklers are watering the sidewalk.

The Irvine Ranch Water District, meanwhile, shows residents how their water consumption compares with that of other homes in the area — and puts labels on customers’ bills that range from “low volume” to “wasteful.”

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