News Feature | November 13, 2015

Los Angeles May Make ‘Droughtshaming' Official Policy

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

pray for rain

Los Angeles is considering a new policy that would threaten water wasters with the possibility of public shame.

In response to questioning by Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz, the Department of Water and Power “is now considering changes to its water conservation ordinance that would impose ‘substantial’ fines for excessive use and make the names public,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

Some cities and states already use such policies. Bronson Mack, a spokesman for a water authority in southern Nevada, explained the approach. “[It] had often proved an effective way of changing water use habits. Individuals were notified by the authorities when their names were about to be released in the public records,” The Guardian reported.

“Some people tell us they did not know they were on the list, and we can then work with them to help them get their water use down,” Mack told The Guardian. “It’s a who’s who of influential people. Often, people are shocked at how much water they use.”

One California water authority is trying a similar tactic, according to the Times. The East Bay Municipal Utility District approved a measure permitting it to fine and name water customers “who consume more than four times the average household,” the report said.

Some customers are already in the hot seat, according to the Times:

Last week, famed Oakland Athletics executive Billy Beane, a Danville resident, apologized for wasting water after his excessive use was made public by the East Bay Municipal Utility District. Beane, the subject of the book and film "Moneyball," blamed his plight on leaky irrigation pipes and told the Associated Press that the problem has been corrected.

Such policies have a fraught history in California. “Decades before someone coined the Twitter hashtag #droughtshaming and people began posting YouTube videos of their neighbors' drowning lawns, California water suppliers encouraged conservation by releasing the names of their biggest water hogs,” according to the Times.

San Diego, for instance, used to publish the names of its top 100 water users. According to a story published in the Los Angeles Times in 1991, Helen Copley, the publisher of the Union-Tribune, was at the top of the list that year, using an average of 10,203 gallons of water each day at her home.

"Also on the list are such well-known public figures as developer Christopher Sickels, who used an average of 7,061 gallons each day during the same period; developer Roque de la Fuente II, who averaged 5,198 gallons daily, and retired Great American Bank Chairman Gordon Luce, who used 3,455 gallons each day," the report said.

Image credit: "pray for rain," garann, © 2011, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: