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One fine day
July 31, 2014, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal

OK, fine. The water hogs of California refuse to cut down on their showers or stop mindlessly watering the dying lawn so the state is trying to hit them where it hurts: the wallet.

Taking a cue from that best of organization training manuals, the movie “Roadhouse” — “Be nice until it’s time to not be nice” — the state is no longer asking residents politely to stop with the water waste and is instead setting the stage for fining violators.

The State Water Resources Board approved fines up to $500 earlier this month and this week they started in certain areas. Guess we should have all taken to heart that gubernatorial request to voluntarily curb water use by 20 percent. In fact, water use in May actually increased 1 percent. Drought? What drought? The carrot didn’t work. Now it’s time for the stick.

The board will monitor local water agencies to make sure they are up to snuff but for individual scofflaws it is relying on the public.

The challenge, obviously, will be getting people to narc on each other. Nobody wants to be that guy or girl. You know, the one that always told Mom what you did while she ran to the store or fessed up the senior prank conspirators under very little pressure from the principal. These are the people who think the Spare the Air days are great and have no problem turning in the person down the street with smoke billowing from the chimney on Christmas morning. These are the people you’d never want to have as friends and never want to personally be. To steal a popular bit of newsroom wisdom, snitches get stitches.

What they should get, however, is a piece of that $500 fine. If the state really wants folks to tattletale on the person hosing down the driveway it needs to offer a green incentive and stop relying on the naive idea the public will do the right thing. We might like to think that humans act out of the goodness of their heart but the truth is a tad bit greedier.

Not that greed is a bad thing when used to propel information or change. Think about when the bad guys rob a bank and law enforcement needs help identifying the suspects. What do they do? They offer a reward. A kitty goes missing and the distraught owner is desperate for a safe return? Reward! Even tech companies are getting into the game when they need a few good coders and engineers. Reward, although it might be better labeled a finder’s fee.

Point is, the state would be better off turning the violation fine into a bounty rather than fattening its own bottom line.

Just imagine, money-hungry people wouldn’t just take notice of the home car washers and diligent lawn irrigators. Instead, they’d actively seek out anybody whose grass is anything brighter than beige or whose sprinklers whirl into the gutter. Roaming groups of enforcers like some sort of aquatic Guardian Angels will kick butt and take names. Mercenaries will throw back a little liquid courage, strap on the forehead flashlights and get to work.

Granted, this might cause an uptick in police reports of home invaders and Peeping Toms — “Officer, I’m only checking to see if they keep the tap running while brushing their teeth! Cite them, not me!” — but is privacy really more important than the parched Earth?

The drought isn’t going to take care of itself any time soon so it’s up to the state to take care of those who do its monitoring job. In this situation, kindness is not its own reward.

Michelle Durand’s column “Off the Beat” runs every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached at: or (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. Follow Michelle on Twitter @michellemdurand What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor:



Tags: water, state, reward, people, think, drought,

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One fine day

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