Now in its third year of record-breaking drought conditions, the water-deprived state of California is reportedly beefing up its law enforcement to crack down on so-called water "abusers" who use too much. In Los Angeles, a full-time "water cop," with three more on the way, now patrols the streets daily looking for violators, according to the Los Angeles Daily News (LADN), an indication of the escalating water wars taking place in the West.
More than 75 percent of California's water stock is currently devoted to agriculture, with the remaining 25 percent nourishing residents, feeding lawns and washing cars. But with an ever-growing population and increasing demand, clean water is increasingly becoming a rarity in the Golden State. Because of this, drought restrictions have been enacted in many areas that restrict when and how much water can be used for secondary purposes, rules that many residents continually flout.
In years past, the state was able to get away with relatively loose enforcement of these water rules, given the caveat that at least some people would abide by them out of principle, conserving just enough of this precious resource to get by. But as drought conditions continue to break record levels, and with an underperforming El Nino season expected this fall, stricter enforcement of water restrictions is necessary, claims the state.
"Everything has changed with the drought," said Rick Silva, the one-man enforcement arm of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's (LADWP) Water Conservation Unit, about the situation. Silva currently patrols neighborhoods alone, looking for potential water violators, and he is expecting three more people to join him in the coming months.
"We're upping our enforcement. We're getting more staff. And we're going to start issuing more tickets."
California residents who use 'too much' water face sharp fines
For now, Silva is focusing primarily on educating Californians about the drought, issuing verbal warnings and constructive criticisms, in most cases, rather than monetary fines. But that could soon change as the water wars mount, and particularly as water usage increases in many parts of the state despite the continued drought.
All along the California coast, for instance, where most of the state's wealthy people live, water usage has jumped by about 8 percent. And in Los Angeles, where water conservation efforts have been largely successful due to strong citizen support, water usage has curiously jumped 5 percent over the past year, even though officers have more aggressively issued fines of up to $600 for violations.
"For us, it's not about being heavy-handed," stressed Silva to LADN. "It's about education, eliciting a change. People know it's a drought: If they know better, they'll comply."
California farmers threatened as authorities divert scarce freshwater directly into ocean
It is not just California's urban dwellers that are having to change their water usage habits, though. Many California farmers face devastation due to heavy restrictions that stem not only from the drought but also from water management requirements that threaten to leave some of them with zero access to water this year.
"This year is a whole new level of crazy," stated Ara Azhderian from the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, to The Fresno Bee.
Azhderian's group represents farmers who are slated to be cut off from the water supply altogether due to state-mandated restrictions that require freshwater to be diverted from farms into the ocean. The purpose of this, say some environmentalists, is to protect native fish species from devastation. But the cost will be a loss of water for 3 million acres of California farmland and 25 million California residents.
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Featured image: Effect of the Drought on Uvas Reservoir by Don DeBold (CC - Flickr)