Britain is suffering from sprinkler restrictions so out of control that the grass is even greener in America's desert state of Nevada. "What is a sprinkler licence?" asked an amused Jim Rickett, the senior water licence officer for Las Vegas. "Even with our drought, we haven't gone to those extremes."
It is easier to buy a gun in Las Vegas than use a sprinkler in Kent. In Vegas, you go to the gun store, fill out a form and wait five days for FBI computer checks. In mid-Kent, you call "sprinkler information" to be told your "free" sprinkler licence requires a water meter. That costs pounds 150 and takes four to five weeks to arrive.
It may even be easier to license a gun here than to sprinkle legally. On the Guns and Hoses chart, a five-year shotgun licence is pounds 43 and a renewal is pounds 18 while a sprinkler licence (even without the metering charge) can cost from pounds 20 a year in Chester to pounds 49 in Wessex. Of course, to license a gun you need to apply to your local police station and get a referee. No such thing is needed for a sprinkler licence - yet.
That "yet" is necessary because sprinklers are the contraptions that drive neighbours to turn each other in, giving green with envy a new meaning. "We get three or four people phoning in each day to say their neighbour is using a sprinkler. Our customers are very supportive," says Malcolm Bailey of Mid-Kent Water.
If you look up in the sky over Kent you could see a plane trailing the message, "A Sprinkler Needs a Licence". In England and Wales some 10 companies charge for hosepipe or sprinkling licences; others offer "free" licensing if you pay out for a meter.
Ofwat, the consumer watchdog, favours metering . It says that a sprinkler uses as much water in an hour as a family of four does in two days.
In Vegas, it's a different story. There, the green, green grass of a mythical non-desert home is seen as a birthright and Stephanie Stallworth of Southern Nevada Water Authority thinks education, not legislation, is the way forward: "People see a strong correlation between lush green landscaping and quality of life. We've got to change the mentality. We would like to see turf used for functional purposes only. Otherwise, we encourage other landscapes. For instance there's xeriscape, that's the latest thing in desert landscaping. It uses drought-tolerant succulents and palms. It's very beautiful."
In Las Vegas the average water cost for a family is about pounds 150 a year and there has never been a sprinkler ban. In this green and pleasant land the average water bill is about pounds 215 a year and there are six companies with hosepipe bans in England.
Oh, did I mention average rainfall? In England it is 32.4 inches a year. In Las Vegas it is 3.8 inches. Xeriscaping seems the only way to go.
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