LA Observed on KCRW

When you're woken up by a downpour in June, the same week that Los Angeles imposes mandatory water cutbacks, the subject of today's commentary became almost a no-brainer. It airs on KCRW (89.9 FM) at 4:44 p.m. and goes online at Or add it to the podcast queue at iTunes. The script is posted after the jump.

Also: There are still some seats to be had on the June 13 Neon Cruise. It's something everybody who loves L.A. should enjoy at least once. Details are here.

This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

Like many of you, I suspect, I was jostled awake this morning by a strange sound from outside.

What was that pounding on the deck? Of course it was rain. Two separate downpours, if I counted correctly in my morning haze.

I usually wake up to the headlines on National Public Radio, a practice that provides the entertainment of odd, reality-inspired dreams. Oh you mean the North Koreans didn’t shoot a ballistic missile over a Taliban camp in Arizona, while the Obama puppy looked on?

So at first, my brain processed the spring shower pounding on the roof as more NPR white noise. Then I popped up into a state of full wakefulness, delighted by the unexpected pleasure –- and the civic coincidence -- of the drenching.

As of Monday, those of us who live in Los Angeles and receive our water from the Department of Water and Power are under some fairly stringent new restrictions.

Everybody has to reduce their water use by 15 percent or face a jump in their water bill.
With the cutback are rules the DWP calls necessary because California is in the third year of lower than normal snowpack and runoff in the Sierra Nevada.

So if you have a yard, using sprinklers is banned except on Monday and Thursday. It’s not clear how they came up with those days, rather than – say – a weekend day when more homeowners are presumably tending their lawns and gardens.

Watering is also prohibited between 10 am and 4 pm. Using the hose to wash off patios and driveways is banned at any time. Same for washing the car with a running hose.
Restaurants are prohibited from serving water unless customers ask for it. Which makes sense.

A lot of the rules just seem prudent for an arid metropolis located 250 miles from its main sources of water, with a growing population and an official desire to keep packing in more people.

Violators face citation and possibly fines, and the DWP has an enforcement army called the Water Conservation Team actively patrolling the city to spot waste.

Part of the strategy is to get neighbors keeping an eye on each other and using peer pressure to bring water wasters into line.

The DWP has even distributed sheets of paper that, if you are so inclined, you can hang on your neighbor’s front door with a note threatening fines.

Because it’s the DWP, there are suspicions around that this is really about pushing an agenda other than curtailing water use in a drought.

The agency has played the villain in numerous California dramas ever since the Owens Valley became a water colony of LA early in the 20th century. Just a couple of months ago, the voters in Los Angeles shot down the solar energy initiative called Measure B largely because they didn’t trust what the DWP was saying.

So now you hear some wondering how much of the new rates are really about taking in more money to help feed the city budget.

Residential customers pay 2 dollars and 92 cents for 748 gallons of water. The DWP says a typical LA home goes through about that much water every couple of days.

Now, your allotment of water at that rate is cut back by 15%. For any water you use over that allotment, you pay almost double.

I don’t know about the conspiracy theory, but it’s easy to see shortages -– and the higher rates -- becoming a way of life.

The city keeps growing denser, by policy of the mayor and the city council, and doesn’t add to its water sources.

So welcome to the future on the edge of the desert, even when it rains in June.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.

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