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The Lawn Arm of the Law : Conservation: ‘Drought Busters’ reach out and cite anyone who is caught wasting water in violation of the city ordinance.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It looked more like a spurting hose than a smoking gun.

But the “weapon” that Manuel Vargas was caught wielding Monday in the Wilshire District was dangerous enough to get him busted by the Los Angeles water police.

The hapless maintenance man was hosing down the sidewalk in front of an Ocean View Avenue medical clinic when he became the first suspected water waster in the city to be nabbed by the “Drought Busters"--a squad of water conservation officers that will patrol the city from now through the summer.

Thirty newly appointed officers will issue citations to those caught violating the city water conservation law. It prohibits the hosing off of sidewalks and driveways, bans non-recycling decorative fountains and leaky pipes, and prevents waiters from automatically serving water in restaurants.

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Repeat violators risk having water service to their homes or businesses cut to a one-gallon-per-minute trickle. After a fourth citation, water service can be cut off 48 hours.

Although the water conservation ordinance was enacted two years ago as part of a voluntary effort to cut water usage in the city by 10%, wasters have not risked punishment until now.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” exclaimed Vargas as enforcement officer Shawn Walker jumped from her patrol car, marked with a special Drought Buster sign depicting a leaky faucet covered by a red slash.

Clinic building manager Liz Gosnell was equally apologetic to Walker, even though the evidence outside was beginning to evaporate.

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“I wrote a memo just today saying to use a broom instead of the hose on the walkway,” Gosnell sighed. “Everybody hasn’t gotten it yet. This is just our luck.”

Walker, a 21-year-old former department store clerk who signed up for the temporary drought patrol in hopes of winning a full-time job with the city’s Department of Water and Power, issued two other citations during her first four hours on the job.

She ticketed an apartment owner for a pipe that was gushing five gallons a minute into Magnolia Avenue. A similar citation was handed to an Irolo Street apartment manager caught hosing down the front of his building. She also wrote up one leaky fire hydrant and issued an oral warning to a maid at a Hancock Park mansion where a lawn sprinkler was spraying Windsor Boulevard.

A few doors from Mayor Tom Bradley’s Hancock Park residence, water was cascading down a neighbor’s driveway. From the street, Walker couldn’t tell if the water was coming from a legal back-yard sprinkler--or an illegal hose.

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“I have to see the perpetrator with a hose in order to cite,” she said.

At Bradley’s house, brown patches in the front yard indicated the mayor has cut back on his lawn watering. But water could be seen seeping through the bricks along a tall back-yard fence.

Although daytime lawn watering is allowed now, it would be prohibited if the City Council enacts the second phase of a water conservation program supported by Bradley, said Anthony Brown, a DWP inspector who is helping train the Drought Busters. Bradley’s household has cut its water use by 29.2% since 1986, according to Department of Water and Power records.

DWP administrators said the first 10 enforcement officers put to work on Monday issued 23 citations and made 42 “contacts” with other suspected water wasters. Twenty of the tickets were for illegal sidewalk hosing, two were for leaks and one was for improperly serving water in a restaurant.

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Ironically, the mayor’s water-saving plan has been met with skepticism by some DWP officials--including department General Manager Norman E. Nichols. He has stressed that he feels the city has sufficient water supplies to last through the rest of the year.

Nichols was not present for the DWP headquarters send-off given the Drought Busters to start the $425,000 conservation enforcement effort Monday morning. But Bradley was. And he brushed off Nichols’ reticence.

“It doesn’t matter whether somebody is a happy camper,” Bradley said. “The point is, we’re all camping.”


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