California is going through a serious drought, and the state has drastically reduced supplies of water to its farmers. In big cities like Los Angeles, the impact is less severe but the city has strict conservation laws that limit water waste and enforces those laws by sending out officers into the streets to monitor compliance.
Rick Silva of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power cruises the neighborhoods of Los Angeles in search of tell-tale signs of illegal watering.
“Residential fines start at $100, and commercial fines start at $200," said Silva.
Most who violate the city laws just get a warning, and advice on a strategy to reduce their water use.
Houses with even street numbers can water Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, those with odd numbers: Monday, Wednesday and Friday. No one can use irrigation systems between 9 am and 4 pm, or on Saturday.
Silva drives through the winding residential streets of the Hollywood Hills and sometimes pulls to the side of the road when he spots lawn sprinklers on, or water running down the street.
“We've been looking for run-off from lawns, people that are watering on the wrong days, and more just to get them on board that a lot of water is being used towards irrigation, and that there's also a lot of potential savings there," he said.
Farmers in California's Central Valley have seen dramatic reductions in their water allocations, which is threatening agriculture, one of the state's major industries. In Los Angeles, up to half the water is used for watering yards, and local officials say that is one area where the city can make reductions.
Silva says homeowners are responsive, once they learn the law.
“And we're hitting the numbers that we want to hit, so we're really emphasizing educating people to conserve more," he said.
The city also is urging homeowners to tear out their lawns and plant drought resistance plants.
“We will pay you to take out your grass. We'll pay you three dollars a square foot [0.09 square meter]," said Silva.
Incentives have enticed some homeowners to put in plant varieties that are native to the temperate climate in Los Angeles, such as Cleveland Sage, California Redbud, California Poppy or Deer Grass. Rick Silva notes that the city has installed a model landscape in a public park as an example of what can be done with native plants.
“You see, some of them are flowering now. It's pretty nice," he said.
Homeowners who ignore the city's water restrictions will get an informational letter, or a formal warning, and finally a fine, if they don't cooperate.
Los Angeles reservoirs still have enough water, but reservoirs in other parts of the state are at levels far below normal. And the Sierra Nevada mountain snowpack, the source of much of the city's water, was 20 percent below normal when measured in May.
The drought is in its third year, and California officials will soon consider tough new penalties for those who waste water anywhere in the state. Under the draft regulations, water-wasting homeowners could be fined up to $500 a day.
Deyane Moses contributed to this report.