Wa­ter one-per­centers get a nudge

The DWP takes a per­sonal ap­proach with letters ask­ing big­gest users to shape up.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Matt Stevens

War­ren Dern thought he was do­ing his part to con­serve wa­ter amid Cal­i­for­nia’s un­flag­ging drought. He was fol­low­ing the city’s rules and only wa­ter­ing his 7,000square- foot lawn in Sher­man Oaks twice per week.

Then, last month, he got a let­ter from the Los An­ge­les Depart­ment of Wa­ter and Power, and it dawned on him: That sim­ply wasn’t enough.

“LADWP records show that you are in the top 1% of all residential wa­ter users,” the let­ter said. “I ask that you care­fully look at your wa­ter habits and take steps to re­duce your wa­ter con­sump­tion.”

City wa­ter of­fi­cials are get­ting per­sonal with their ef­forts to boost con­ser­va­tion. Last month, DWP be­gan send­ing letters to the 1% of residential wa­ter users, like Dern, who use the most wa­ter. The letters urg­ing home­own­ers to im­prove their wa­ter- wast­ing habits went to about 4,600 homes, largely in up­scale neigh­bor­hoods with big lots and lush lawns.

As the letters have f lowed out, calls have f looded into the depart­ment from home­own­ers, some up­set, some cha­grined by the city’s latest at­tempt to slash wa­ter use as Cal­i­for­nia suf­fers through a fourth year of drought.

“It was a wake- up call,” Dern said. “I was like, ‘ Wow, maybe we’re part of the prob­lem.’”

The letters are ar­riv­ing as DWP and more than 400 ur­ban wa­ter dis­tricts statewide face manda­tory wa­ter use cuts or­dered by Gov. Jerry

Brown. DWP must slash its wa­ter con­sump­tion by 16% by Fe­bru­ary 2016 or face fines of up to $ 10,000 per day from the state.

Mak­ing the cut will be made eas­ier, city wa­ter of­fi­cials say, if the largest users tighten their wa­ter belts.

A day af­ter re­ceiv­ing his let­ter, Dern called DWP and asked how he could con­serve more.

Now, the 51- year- old lawyer is in­stalling wa­ter- ef­fi­cient sprin­kler heads, re­plac­ing about 5,000 square feet of grass with ar­ti­fi­cial turf, and pour­ing ce­ment where plants used to thrive.

Ex­perts and con­ser­va­tion­ists say tar­get­ing the top wa­ter con­sumers is a smart idea that was over­due. Max Gomberg, a se­nior sci­en­tist for the State Wa­ter Re­sources Con­trol Board, said he was not aware of any other wa­ter agency send­ing out letters like DWP’s.

“I’m glad they are step­ping it up,” said Con­ner Everts, fa­cil­i­ta­tor of the En­vi­ron­men­tal Wa­ter Cau­cus, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that pro­motes sus­tain­able wa­ter man­age­ment. “We’re go­ing to have to do all this and more.”

The depart­ment started send­ing the letters out in mid- May. Of­fi­cials used me­ter read­ings be­tween May 2014 and April 2015 to de­ter­mine cus­tomers’ av­er­age daily wa­ter use, depart­ment spokes­woman Michelle Figueroa said.

The largest share of let- ters went to homes in aff lu­ent pock­ets of the West­side and the sprawl­ing hot neigh­bor­hoods of the San Fer­nando Val­ley, ac­cord­ing to DWP records.

More than 600 letters went to Brent­wood, the ZIP Code that re­ceived the most. Col­lec­tively, 42% of the city’s high­est residential wa­ter users live in Brent­wood, Be­lAir, Bev­erly Crest and Pa­cific Pal­isades, ac­cord­ing to depart­ment data.

More than 500 of L. A.’ s heav­i­est users live in En­cino, and hun­dreds more are in neigh­bor­hoods such as Tarzana, Wood­land Hills, Chatsworth and Stu­dio City.

At least 100 cus­tomers like Dern called or wrote to the depart­ment af­ter re­ceiv­ing a let­ter, said Julie Spacht, DWP’s wa­ter ex­ec­u­tive man­ag­ing engi­neer.

“We’ve hit a nerve,” she said. “It’s one that shows the public con­scious­ness has risen to a higher level than I be­lieve it ever has been be­fore.”

Ex­ces­sive wa­ter use isn’t as­so­ci­ated with spe­cific “prop­erty char­ac­ter­is­tics,” Figueroa said. But of­fi­cials said that cus­tomers who called of­ten blamed high wa­ter us­age on large lots, leaks, big fam­i­lies and wa­ter- in­ten­sive fruit trees.

It will take up to a year for the depart­ment to de­ter­mine whether the letters were ef­fec­tive, Spacht said, in part be­cause some wa­ter­sav­ing changes take time to ac­com­plish. Dern said it will take a few months to in­stall new land­scap­ing at his home. He’s hop­ing to cut his out­door wa­ter use 75% by the fall.

The move is at least the sec­ond such tac­tic LADWP has em­ployed this year to drive down residential wa­ter use. Of­fi­cials said they also launched a pi­lot pro­gram in Jan­uary that sent re­ports to 20,000 ran­domly se­lected cus­tomers ex­plain­ing how their wa­ter use com­pares to oth­ers in the city.

The year­long “pi­lot study” uses WaterSmart soft­ware, of­fi­cials said, to show cus­tomers how much wa­ter they use com­pared to “av­er­age” and “ef­fi­cient” house­holds sim­i­lar to their own.

For much of the last year, DWP of­fi­cials have stressed ed­u­ca­tion and out­reach rather than f ines for wa­ter waste. In April, the depart­ment as­sessed only eight penal­ties de­spite is­su­ing more than 1,400 warn­ings, ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent state data avail­able.

DWP of­fi­cials have said they is­sued few f ines be­cause most An­ge­lenos change their be­hav­ior af­ter a warn­ing. The letters, they say, are another tool to en­cour­age cus­tomers to change their habits.

“You’re not just tap­ping into al­tru­ism, you’re tap­ping into so­cial norms,” said Jonathan Par­frey, a for­mer DWP com­mis­sioner who is now ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Cli­mate Re­solve, a non­profit that fo­cuses on how L. A. can adapt to cli­mate change. “Peo­ple want to be in line with or more vir­tu­ous than their neigh­bors.”

Anne Cu­sack Los An­ge­les Times

AS THE DWP’S letters have f lowed out to home­own­ers who use the most wa­ter, calls have f looded in. The DWP is stress­ing ed­u­ca­tion and out­reach rather than f ines in its ef­fort to change peo­ple’s habits.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.