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California homeowners warned on brown lawns despite drought

  • Michael Korte and his wife Laura Whitney, pose outside their home lawn in Glendora, Calif., Thursday, July 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Laura Whitney and her husband, Michael Korte, don't know whether they're being good citizens during a drought or scofflaws.

On the same day the state approved mandatory outdoor watering restrictions with the threat of $500 fines, the Southern California couple received a letter from their city threatening a $500 penalty for not watering their brown lawn.

It's brown because of their conservation, which, besides a twice-a-week lawn watering regimen, includes shorter showers and larger loads of laundry.

They're encouraged by the state's new drought-busting, public service slogan: Brown is the new green.

The city of Glendora sees it differently.

"Despite the water conservation efforts, we wish to remind you that limited watering is still required to keep landscaping looking healthy and green," says the letter, which gives Korte and Whitney 60 days to restore their lawn.

They're among residents caught in the middle of conflicting government messages as the need for conservation clashes with the need to preserve attractive neighborhoods.

"My friends in Los Angeles got these letters warning they could be fined if they water, and I got a letter warning that I could be fined for not watering," Whitney said. "I felt like I was in an alternate universe."

Despite the drought, Californians have increased their water use by 1 percent in May compared with previous years, according to a state survey of water providers. To combat perceived complacency, the state water board voted this week to require water agencies to adopt emergency drought plans and authorized fines of up to $500 a day for water wasters.

The board's chairwoman, Felicia Marcus, said "a brown lawn should be a badge of honor because it shows you care about your community." But several homeowners are reporting that a dried-up lawn instead attracts the wrath of their community.


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