Enforcing Water Restrictions
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June 26, 2009 – KPBS reporter Katie Orr tells San Diego Week host Joanne Faryon about San Diego "water cops."
Related story: What Are You Going To Do When the Water Cops Come for You?
JOANNE FARYON (Host): People living in the City of San Diego have been subject to mandatory water conservation since the beginning of June. One of the restrictions limits the hours when lawns can be watered. To make sure people are following the rules, San Diego employs five so-called water cops. KPBS reporter Katie Orr spent a day with one of those water cops and she joins me now. Katie, who is this water cop, and how did he get his job? KATIE ORR (Reporter): Well, his name is Seneca Page, and technically he's called a field representative. They don't think of themselves as water cops, but that's how everyone has come to call them. He was with the water department before, he had been a meter reader, and when this program sort of started, he was moved over to this field representative position and then he works with four others as well. FARYON: So you spent some time with him, going out on calls. How does he get these tips? ORR: Well, people generally call the water department with complaints, and then his supervisor will divvy up the cases among the five representatives. He also can get emails, and people will let them know that way. They really count on the community to call in and let them know of possible violations. FARYON: So, people at home can see now some of the various complaints you went out with Seneca on. What kinds of things was he investigating? ORR: Well, when I went out with him, he was investigating. Sometimes they were pretty vague. Someone would call in and say, oh I drove by this condo complex and there was water running into the street behind the complex. And the thing is, people call in and they say okay, give us two weeks to investigate this. So you know, there's only five of them, so by the time he might get out someplace to look, you know the water might be gone. So it's kind of a vague thing at times. So we investigated some water running into the streets, someone had reported a leak behind a school, someone's water meter box was overflowing, so we went and checked that out as well. So there's a wide variety of things. FARYON: And what does he do when he actually finds a violation? ORR: Well, if he finds a violation - for instance, we were going into a neighborhood and we drove by a house who had their sprinklers going after 10 a.m. So in that case, he walked to the front door and knocked, and the man answered, and he explained, you know you can't have your sprinklers going to have to adjust the timer. So in most cases when there's a violation, first what they'll do is send a letter to the property owner - which he said is another issue because if this is a rental the property owner might live in another state, or you know not in San Diego. So they send a letter to the property owner. If they get another complaint, then they sort of kick it up to the code compliance division who handles the fines. FARYON: How do people react to him, when he's knocking on the door and saying, you know, I'm here, you have water on your sidewalk. ORR: Well, I have to say I was a little nervous going up to the door with him, but people are generally pretty receptive. And I have to say that his manner is very nice, and he was emphasizing that he's just there to educate people, he's not there to confront people or call anybody out. Just, sort of, he wants to spread the word about the restrictions. And generally people seem to be pretty receptive, or they just didn't know, you know. And he says he hasn't had anyone be angry with him. FARYON: But he hasn't given them a fine yet. ORR: No. And he doesn't give out the fines so that might, you know, make people a little more receptive to him as well. FARYON: So, in the end, who would give out the fine? ORR: What happens is, if you get a complaint against you he'll go - or he gets a complaint - he'll go and check it out, send a letter, if he gets another complaint about that same property, he'll kick it over to the code compliance division and they're the ones that assess the fines. FARYON: Great. Thank you, Katie Orr.