Drought Busters Will Return to Your Neighbordhood With New Name

The city of Los Angeles plans to enforce water laws during the California drought, officials said

Patrols in search of water waste -- so called "drought busters" -- could return to Los Angeles as soon as next week, according to the city's Department of Water and Power.

The patrols are intended to be informational, to remind citizens that the city's already existing conservation ordinance forbids such things as hosing down sidewalks and running sprinklers between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., or more than three days a week.

"A lot of people have just forgotten and they don't realize what the law in the city is," said James McDaniel, the DWP's senior assistant general manager for water. "So it's going to be primarily focused on education. But there could be an enforcement component, certainly, if we don't get some rain."

Teams have been dispatched during two previous droughts over the past two decades.

The last time, in 2008, the DWP field teams wore snappy blue polo shirts and had as their patrol car a Toyota Prius emblazoned with a "Drought Busters" logo.

"Probably will not be called 'drought busters,'" McDaniel said with a smile. "Will be our 'water conservation enforcement team' or someting like that."

McDaniel's comments came during a downtown media event to introduce Marcie Edwards as LA Mayor Garcetti's nominee as next general manager of the DWP.

Asked about conservation enforcement, Garcetti said patrols are helpful to ferret out water waste that in many cases is unintentional and might otherwise go unnoticed.

"We all go on those morning walks or jobs where we see that one place that probably somebody doesn't even know their sprinklers are broken," Garcetti said. "That helps us in a collaborative way to be able to let them know that's happening and help them conserve water."

The ordinance adopted during the last drought, and amended in 2010, empowers the DWP to tack a fine onto a customer's bill after a warning for the first violation. A second violation can result in a $100 surcharge -- $500 by the sixth.

At that point, the city can move to install a flow restrictor or even cut off service. Before then, the customer is entitled to a hearing.

How many times such penalties were imposed in 2008, DWP officials could not say for certain, but it was extremely rare in the recollection of veteran City Councilman Tom LaBonge.

"We want to be a fine city," LaBonge said. "Not a FINE city."

Unlike many areas of the state north of the Tehachapi Mountains, Los Angeles and other Southern California communities served by the Metropolitan Water District are not facing imminent shortages this year, general manager Jeffrey Kightlinger has said.

However, the drought has increased the cost of imported water, and that is a major motivation for the DWP to hold down water usage. Gov. Brown has asked all Californians to make a voluntary effort to cut back 20 percent.

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