The LADWP is cracking down on water wasters, but not by confronting them. "Drought busters" prefer to inform the public on how and why to conserve rather than create a confrontation. Patrick Healy reports for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014.
You might call Robert Estrada a "drought buster," but he prefers "water conservation specialist."
Equipped with a camera, notepad, and list of addresses, Estrada takes to the streets of Los Angeles in search of water wasters.
It never takes him long, especially not while making his rounds shortly after dawn on Saturdays, the one day of the week on which LA does not permit any yard watering at all. In many cases, Estrada sees that and something worse: water spraying or running off onto sidewalks, gutters and driveways.
"I was wondering when somebody would do something," Van Nuys resident Sandy Edwards said as she walked past Estrada taking photographs of a Van Nuys apartment building's sprinklers sending water into Woodman Avenue.
"There is a drought, and we all have to save water," Estrada said. His mission is to look for violations of the city's conservation ordinance still in effect from when it was passed during the last drought in 2008, and amended in 2010.
Among other things, it restricts yard watering to only three days a week -- which three depend on whether your address ends in an odd or even number. Monday, Wednesday, Friday are the odd days; Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday for even numbered addresses. Since that became law, DWP calculates water use has dropped 18 percent.
"Drought busters" is what DWP dubbed the field teams it sent out in snazzy blue polo shirts with logos during the last drought, and they met with suspected water wasters. The renewed approach is more low-key and intended to be less confrontational than informational.
When Estrada sees what he believes to be violations, he takes digital photos, and back at the office sends out notification letters to the property owners and apartment building managers.
A repeat violation results in a formal warning letter. Further violations can lead to fines of $100 and up tacked onto the customer's water bill. But in Estrada's experience, most times the property owner corrects the problem.
"We don't really want to fine people," Estrada said. "We just want to leave them the information and get them to follow the ordinance."
Southern California has sufficient reserves of stored water that there is no talk of mandatory rationing for the next year or two, even if the drought continues. Still, it's Estrada's job to make sure people do not become complacent.
"It just rained yesterday," he said. Everybody thinks the drought is over, but that's not the case."
Other DWP initiatives are aimed at rewarding customers for reducing water demand. Property owners can apply for a program that pays $2 for every square foot of lawn that is removed and replaced with a less thirsty alternative, such as artificial turf or drought tolerant plants.
As Estrada finished his paperwork back at his DWP office just west of, two dozen lawn rebate applicants gathered in the meeting room next door for a class on landscaping techniques for conserving water.
And what do they think of the patrols in search of water waste?
"Probably is Big brother-ish," said homeowner Brendan Peterson, a tax return preparer and aspiring xeriscaper. "But we have to do something for California, if that's what it takes."