Opinion: We’re all wet when it comes to controlling our water appetites

State water regulators are considering fines of $500 for excessive water use in the face of the state's worst drought in at least a century.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Five months ago, Gov. Jerry Brown asked us to use 20% less water. We’ve managed 5%. Good job, California.

Now the state and cities should force us to do what we aren’t grown up enough to do on our own.

Mega-droughts like this one require mega-measures. Yet we’re months into the drought and few politicians are willing to drop the hammer. They hate mandatory measures because voters hate them, but we’ll all hate it a lot more if we turn on the faucets and nothing comes out.


Politicians keep congratulating us on the fact that Angelenos use the same amount of water we did more than 30 years ago, even though there are at least a million more of us.

Most of that savings, I daresay, was passive — low-flush toilets, low-flow showerheads that require us to to do nothing. That benefit is maxing out; we have to do the rest ourselves.

Lakes, streams, reservoirs, snowpack — going, going, gone. It hasn’t been this dry for 100 years, maybe for 500. And yet still no mandatory rationing. Half of Sacramento doesn’t even have water meters!

Rationing rules don’t have to be tricky. It just takes some common sense and awareness, both of which are in almost as short a supply as water. Restaurants shouldn’t automatically serve water; it takes several glasses of water to wash that one that you don’t drink anyway. Mandatory limits are like mandatory smaller class sizes in the 1990s. Smaller classes mean more teachers, and enforcing water rules means hiring enforcers.

I thought the DWP’s ballyhooed Drought Busters team must have dried up and blown away because I’ve never gotten any action when I alerted them to broken sprinklers.

It turns out they’ve just dropped the catchy “Drought Buster” name as too stern and enforce-y in favor of something like the wimpy-sounding Water Conservation Enforcement Team, which is supposed to issue warnings. (Couldn’t they at least have made it Water Enforcement Team — WET?)

Even so, the city doesn’t seem inclined to follow up the carrot with the stick, fines starting at $100 and ending in a water shutoff.

Rules have to be enforced. Duh. Capricious enforcement breeds scofflaws and resentment. And rules have to be fair. Across-the-board cuts have to accommodate people who are already being conscientious and target instead the guy who’s showering five times a day.

What’ll it take to get through to people? Fear? Maybe rolling water shutdowns, like rolling power blackouts, would work.

Humor? L.A. could enlist some of my fave local comics (these are personal choices of mine and I want to make that clear) such as Paula Poundstone, Alonzo Bodden and Ben Gleib, to make witty PSAs about water saving. (“L.A. is so dry … How dry is it? It’s so dry that … ” You’re welcome, professional comedians.)

Sex? San Francisco is trying a seductive-voiced public service spot to make you think water saving is hot.

Or maybe the usual appeal works best: money. Water isn’t free, and it should get more expensive in the drought. So imagine for a moment that it’s quarters and not water swirling your drain and trickling down the street, and you might shut it off. Before they make you.

Follow Patt Morrison on Twitter @pattmlatimes