A Day in the Life of a Water Cop
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
People living in the city of San Diego have been subject to mandatory water conservation since the beginning of June. A major part of the restrictions involves limiting the hours when yards can watered. To make sure people are following the rules, San Diego employs five so-called water cops. KPBS Metro Reporter Katie Orr spent the day with one.
KPBS Special Report
SAN DIEGO People living in the city of San Diego have been subject to mandatory water conservation since the beginning of June. A major part of the restrictions involves limiting the hours when yards can watered. To make sure people are following the rules, San Diego employs five so-called water cops. KPBS Metro Reporter Katie Orr spent the day with one.
The city doesn’t actually call them “water cops”. Officially the five people patrolling San Diego checking out water wasting complaints are known as Field Representatives for the Water Department’s Conservation Program. And Field Rep Seneca Page sounds more like an ambassador than an enforcer.
“So we’re going to go out here to a couple of complaints in the Carmel Valley area and check on it and see what’s going on. Hopefully educate the public about the water restrictions,” he says.
It’s about 8:30 in the morning and we’re heading north on Interstate 5 out of downtown. Our first stop is investigating a vague complaint about water running into the street. We pull up to the approximate location and see, well, not much.
“So it’s the east side, right here, it looks like, town homes or something, something with the HOA I’m sure,” Page says as he pulls off to the side of a residential road. “So it could be the HOA’s just not aware of what’s going on. We don’t see any water running down the side of the street here.”
Page pulls into the complex and is met by a resident who says the management office is located off site but that everyone’s been making an effort to water less. Page thanks the man and heads back to his truck. He says he’ll follow up with a letter to the management company. If he receives another complaint about the property he’ll turn the case over to the city’s code compliance department which may issue a fine. It’s a situation that crops up continually for the field reps. People call in with anonymous complaints and by the time someone makes it out to investigate the water’s dried up and nothing looks out of place. But it’s something Page tries to takes in stride.
“Sometimes you do kind of feel like you’re banging your head against the wall, chasing your tail, you know, you’re kind of in the dark. So sometimes it does,” he says. “But you know, you kind of shake it off. Because for every one where you don’t see anything, there are six that you do.”
So for now it’s back into the truck and onto the next complaints. And there’s been a lot to investigate. An official in the water department says they used to get about 80 calls a month. In the first two weeks of June the department received more than 300. Back on the road there’s a stop to check out some flooding behind a school. A school employee’s already there fixing the problem, someone accidentally stepped on a water pipe and broke it but it’s being replaced. From there we head to the Serra Mesa neighborhood to check out a leaking water meter. Page opens the meter box located in the ground and sees it is indeed filled with water. He grabs a pump and begins draining it. Homeowner Nezam Etemadi comes out of the house. He says he wasn’t sure how to fix the leak and has been worried about getting fined.
“I know June 1st we’ve started with the rationing and the restrictions. And I’ve actually had two neighbors come by and tell me, hey you’re leaking. Thanks for the update,” he says laughing.
But Etemadi’s in luck. It turns out the city is responsible for fixing the meter. Page hands him some literature on the watering restrictions and heads off to his next investigation. On our way into the neighborhood we spotted a clear violation, sprinklers running after 10 a.m. By the time we head back that way the automatic sprinklers have shut off, but the sidewalk is still wet. Page heads to the front door and the man renting the house cautiously opens it. Page tells him the lawn is being watered excessively and tells him to let his landlord know the sprinklers need to be adjusted.
The morning’s appointments done, Page will now head back to the office to answer calls, send out letters and follow up on previous cases. Again he stresses that his job is to educate people about what they can and can’t do when it comes to watering. And it’s one that will likely keep him pretty busy throughout the summer.