LA's Water-Gate

Are some government agencies ignoring recent water restrictions?

This summer, lawns of many residential homes are slowly getting browner, because you can now only use your sprinklers on Mondays and Thursdays, and not during the hours of 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

But NBCLA has found sprinklers watering landscaping along Interstate 5 in Sun Valley almost every day of the week, which is now against the law.

Those sprinklers are just a portion of the 250,000 units Caltrans operates on freeways in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

How many of those sprinklers are watering illegally? Caltrans maintenance deputy Dan Freeman told us he has no idea.

For the last month, NBCLA has been receiving a lot of e-mails from our viewers tipping us off to violations of the new water restrictions. So we investigated those tips.

At UCLA in Westwood, we found the sprinklers watering parts of the sprawling campus on a Tuesday night, which is against the law. Residents near UCLA tell us they see this happening every night of the week.

When we called the university, a spokesperson admitted that the system was watering at the restricted times, and says it has now corrected the problem.


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But along LA's freeways, we found one onramp after another with Caltrans sprinklers running full blast, on days when they're supposed to be off.

So why is Caltrans in violation of the water restrictions?

A spokesperson told us the agency doesn't have enough workers to reset all of its the sprinklers to run only on Mondays and Thursdays.

"It's not something that can happen immediately, but it's something we're working on and we expect to be complete very, very quickly," Freeman said.

It doesn't seem fair to some LA homeowners that big institutions like UCLA and Caltrans can ignore the water restrictions, when the average citizen could get fined by the Department of Water and Power if they're caught doing this.

If a homeowner is caught ignoring the restrictions, the DWP issues a warning, and then if it's not corrected, a fine is issued. By the fifth violation, the DWP can cut-off a homeowner's water.

Homeowner Ron Aubert says he obeys the new watering law, but added, "If Caltrans can water, why can't I? My lawn is getting brown because I can't water."

When we asked Freeman about whether or not it's fair that Caltrans can get away with this when the average citizen will get fined, he replied, "I don't think that we're being handled any differently."

But it appears they are. Caltrans tells us that the Department of Water and Power is well aware that the transportation agency is running some of its sprinklers illegally. DWP has issued Caltrans eight warnings, but still hasn't fined them a dollar.

David Nahai, CEO of the Department of Water and Power, said, "(Caltrans) shouldn't be allowed to violate the law any more than anybody else is."

"If there are repeat violations, we have to cite them and move to monetary penalties as well," Nahai said.

As for UCLA, they thanked NBCLA for making them aware they were in violation of the water restrictions, and a spokesperson points out that the university has numerous water conservation measures in place and while the square footage of the campus has grown by 18 percent since 2000, they have actually reduced annual water consumption by 70 million gallons.

As for Caltrans, its spokesman says he hopes to have all sprinklers in compliance with the new law by September, but he wouldn't promise it will definitely happen. Last year Caltrans entered into an agreement with the DWP to significantly reduce water consumption by 2012. DWP sources tell us they have already reduced that consumption by 15 percent.

If you know of a place that's running its sprinklers in violation of LA's new water restrictions, you can call the DWP at 800-DIAL-DWP, or via e-mail at:

Do you have a story for us to investigate? E-mail Joel at: 

Click here to check out more NBC Los Angeles investigative reports.

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