Much of the west and southwest is dealing with drought at this time, but the ways that individual states and communities have addressed the problem varies greatly.
For instance, in California, they have instituted a fine system that hits anyone who is using water in what is deemed an irresponsible or wasteful way. As detailed here, functions such as watering your lawn or washing your car with water from the public system can result in a fine. California has also taken to hiring water enforcement officers who respond to complaints – some areas, like San Jose, have developed backlogs of complaints going back months. These complaints often result in warning, even fines at times.
Other areas have chosen to use the carrot instead of the stick. Many communities in Arizona, such as Chandler and Mesa, have taken to the idea of offering rebates for residents who swap out 500 square feet of grass for xeriscaping. It’s not just a matter of replacing lawn with an empty area either, as discussed here. Anyone who wants to qualify for the rebate must put in plant coverage for the area, be it in the form of trees, shrubs, or other native low-water plants.
So is there a right way for an area do deal with drought? It seems to us that offering the rebate may be the wiser way to go. There is certainly the direct payment, which is a hit to the city budget. However, unlike a fine that is an immediate, of-the-moment action, a xeriscaped lawn is something that will have an impact for years to come. Xeriscaping can permanently lower the watering needs of the area without making it less attractive.
While California may see revenue come in from the usage of water police, they have to pay those employees. Even at the rate of $500 per fine, those water police will have to respond to and fine a number of offender every day, just to justify their pay. A xeriscaped lawn, however, doesn’t require constant attention and response from the authorities.