California: The fight against drought has a new tool: The restrictor

Despite the lack of measurable rain for months, the carpet of lush green grass likely means homeowners aren’t getting the message about the urgent need for water conservation, or are ignoring warnings.

But now the water district has found a way to attract customers’ attention. When the customer service representatives work in the various districts, they monitor any violations of the water restriction. And for repeat offenders, authorities are trying something new: adding water restrictors to the pipes, which drastically reduces the home’s water supply.

The district covers some of the most desirable real estate in Southern California, Northwest Hollywood and Beverly Hills, including areas along the Ventura Freeway.

Las Virgenes imports all of its water from the State Water Project, which channels runoff from the northern Sierra Nevada mountains to southern California. However, at the end of winter, the snowpack was just 4% of normal, forcing unprecedented restrictions. Las Virgenes is only getting 5% of its requested water supplies this year.
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“We have to supplement the water we get from the State Water Project,” said Mike McNutt, public affairs and communications manager for Las Virgenes, who added that the district draws water from its Las Virgenes Reservoir, its hideout for emergency needs, just south of Thousand Oaks.

At present, McNutt has confirmed that it is 72% full; at full capacity, that’s a six-month supply. “We had to take significant steps to reduce water usage to ensure long-term water reliability, which means switching to fall and winter,” McNutt noted.

Almost all of California is in case of severe drought or worse (the three highest designations), according to the latest US Drought Monitor. Several years of severely insufficient rain and snow punctuated a 20-year mega-drought, scientists say, fueled by hotter, drier conditions brought on by climate change.

When greener grass is not a good thing

In light of the shortage and prolonged drought, Las Virgenes has forced residents to cut their outdoor watering in half, as required by the unprecedented order from its distributor, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Outdoor irrigation accounts for 70% of most customers’ water use, according to the water district, so reducing irrigation can have a huge impact on conservation.

“They’re only allowed to water outside one day a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, depending on whether your address ends in an odd or even number,” McNutt explained. On top of that, each set of sprinklers can only run for eight minutes. “It maybe helps to keep some of the grass alive if people want to keep having lawns, but they’re brown.”

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CNN accompanied Cason Gilmer, senior customer service representative on the grounds of Las Virgenes, as he searched for wasted water. As he and his team drive around the coverage area, they monitor water where it shouldn’t be — on sidewalks and on streets in gutters — or outdoor irrigation when it should be turned off.

“When it’s in our face and the sprinklers go off at noon Wednesday, it’s an easy target for us,” said Gilmer, who noted that most customers now seem to be doing their part. “This street in particular was very, very green two months ago.”

Along the route, the number of houses with vibrant green grass outnumbered brown lawns. Some lawns have been replaced with grass and others have been painted green.

Neighbors can report each other, including celebrities

If someone from the water district finds water wasted, they can leave a door tag to let the homeowner know they are out of compliance and what they should do. They also send letters. The water district also imposes fines on aggressors, resulting in charges that can reach thousands of dollars depending on the extent of the violation.

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But the affluent haven of Calabasas, inside the Water District territory, is home to many deep-pocketed A-listers. Some of those household names – celebrities, musicians and athletes – used far more water than they should have, according to recent data.

People like Kevin Hart, Dwyane Wade and according to the Los Angeles Times, Kourtney Kardashian, as well as her sister Kim.

None responded to CNN’s request for comment. However, in a statement to The Times, Wade and his wife, actress Gabrielle Union, said they had “taken drastic measures to reduce water usage in accordance with new city guidelines and are have done since we moved into our house”.

Las Virgenes said all of those celebrities are now in good standing.

“These specific celebrities have worked very closely with the district. They want to do the right thing … in order to achieve a much more efficient level of water use,” McNutt said.

And when fines aren’t enough, it’s time to bring in the restrictor

With so many wealthy residents, Las Virgenes has learned that some customers react more to the loss of water than to the loss of money.

“We’re trying to educate the public and educate the public about the drought, but a lot of people are throwing the shippers away. They’re ignoring it,” said Gilmer, who created a simple but effective way to get attention. of users one gallon at a time. “I call it a bit of a last resort.”

The restrictors have a small hole in the middle, which greatly reduces the flow of water to the house.

The water restrictor is a thin circle of food grade stainless steel with a small hole in the middle, which fits directly into the offending customer’s water meter, which technicians can usually access directly from the street since the meters are the property of the district.

“This particular restrictor will give you about a gallon per minute. Normally a three-quarter inch meter is 25 to 30 gallons per minute. So at 25 to 30 gallons per minute you can run your dishwasher and do run your sink and have someone in the shower and maybe even have your irrigation and no one sees the difference,” Gilmer explained. “With the restrictor in…your sink is working fine. Your shower is working fine. Your irrigation won’t work. It just won’t deliver the amount of water requested.”

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Gilmer even tried it at home to see what it was like to have his water restricted.

“The most important thing is that you can’t do two things at the same time. So if I was in the shower and my wife was trying to do the dishes, my shower was over. I just got out” , Gilmer said with a slight smile. “My wife demanded that I take it off after a day and a half.”

When a customer uses four times more than 150% of their water allowance, they will be queuing to have the flow restrictor installed. Las Virgenes says about 1,600 connections, or just over 7% of its customer base, fall into this category.

“It’s not meant to be punitive,” McNutt said. “It’s meant to tell people…this drought is incredibly bad and what we need you to do is do your part.”

McNutt added that Las Virgenes is leading by example in California because it “uses these rate-restricting devices for conservation purposes.”

“We’re sort of leading this charge to advance the question of how do we get people to stop using so much water as climate change advances.”

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