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How California’s snitches are slaking thirst for justice

Reservoirs are at just 60 per cent of the historical average

As California staggers thirstily through its worst drought in decades, the state’s more conscientious residents are employing extreme measures to curb their neighbours’ wasteful water use.

In a phenomenon known as “drought shaming”, many are calling water utility hotlines to report excessive lawn-watering or car-washing, while others snitch via social media, posting images of waste accompanied by the hashtag #DroughtShaming.

The whole of California is now officially in “severe drought”. Reservoirs are at just 60 per cent of the historical average. A recent study suggested the drought is likely to cost California $2.2bn (£1.3bn) this year, and to put approximately 17,000 agricultural labourers out of work.

In January, California Governor Jerry Brown called for a 20 per cent voluntary reduction in water use from the state, but water use decreased by just five per cent in the subsequent five months For 270 days beginning on 1 August, the California Water Resources Board has introduced fines of up to $500 for residents or businesses using drinkable water to spray down pavements, in non-circulating fountains or to water lawns and wash cars.

For some, brown lawns have become a reason to boast – even the grass outside the State Capitol in Sacramento has gone unwatered. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has increased its “cash for grass” rebate, offering $3 to residents for every square foot of grass they replace with drought-resistant plants.

Yet even with the threat of fines, many Californians are still blithely dousing their driveways. The Sacramento Department of Utilities has reportedly fielded more than 10,000 complaints from residents so far this year – up from around 700 this time last year.

While many are taking to Twitter to name and shame offending neighbours, lengthy-showering housemates and golf courses, at least two smartphone apps have emerged as efficient drought shaming platforms. H20 Tracker allows users to inform city authorities instantly of a neighbour’s excessive water use, sending a report and pictures with just a few keystrokes.