To fight drought, Burbank not washing city vehicles for two months

More than 300 Burbank city vehicles will go unwashed as part of a new conservation program

Thanks to California's persistent drought, the city of Burbank is resorting to "dirty" tactics in the fight to conserve water.

More than 300 city vehicles — including those used by the Burbank Police Department, Burbank Water and Power and the Burbank Fire Department — will go unwashed for at least two months as part of a new conservation program.

But "everyone is being instructed to keep their windows clean," said city spokesman Drew Sugars, noting the importance of visibility.

The city recently joined the "Go Dirty for the Drought" campaign run by the Santa Monica-based environmental organization Los Angeles Waterkeeper.

As part of the campaign, drivers log on to lawaterkeeper.org and make a promise to not wash their cars for 60 days. L.A. Waterkeeper then mails them a big blue sticker to put in their car windows to explain the grime as an environmental cause.

Burbank officials have requested that 350 stickers be placed in car windows to bring attention to the state's historic drought.

"We really want to get the word out," Sugars said. "The primary message is to remind the public that we are in the worst drought in a century, and it's not just business as usual."

In September, L.A. Waterkeeper began asking drivers to promise not to wash their cars for 60 days in an effort to raise awareness about the drought, said Rachel Stich, a spokeswoman for the organization who suggested the idea.

Supporters are also posting photos and messages to social media sites such as Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #DirtyCarPledge. A Los Angeles-wide billboard campaign and appearances on "NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams" and KPCC's "Air Talk" have helped spread the word.

The goal is to get 10,000 pledges, which Stich said equates to about 3 million gallons of water saved. She said more than 6,000 people have made the pledge in the first seven weeks of the campaign.

"We just want to get people thinking about [conserving water], and it seemed like a car was a good way to do it," she said. "There's other ways to do it — it doesn't have to be your car."

Burbank was the second of three cities in California to make the pledge for their fleets. Santa Monica was the first, committing not to wash or to scale back washing schedules for 300 city vehicles. Nearly 200 buses in the city's fleet will get exterior washes only half as often as usual.

Malibu was the third city, but it is still finalizing the tally of participating vehicles. L.A. Waterkeeper is also talking to Los Angeles and has heard interest from some Northern California cities as well.

"Local and state agencies should be at the forefront of making more water-conscious decisions and educating the public about the drought," said Liz Crosson, L.A. Waterkeeper's executive director, in a statement.

Sugars said not every vehicle in Burbank's inventory will be a part of the pledge, and not all of them are expected to have blue stickers in their windows.

"We're probably not going to put one on a fire engine," he said.

Sugars said it's not clear whether the city will commit to continuing the pledge beyond the initial 60 days. That could depend on whether winter rains begin replenishing the city's water reserves, he said.

L.A. Waterkeeper hasn't put an end date on its campaign, either, Stich said. She's not sure what organization officials will do when they reach their goal of 10,000 pledges.

"We haven't really thought about when it's going to end," she said. "We're like, 'When [is] the drought going to end?'"

chad.garland@latimes.com

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