Because of the ongoing water shortage in my Southern California town, we're now limited to the number of days we can water our lawns. But in the neighborhood I recently moved to, there's my new neighbor, nearly every day of the week, hosing down his driveway (not even his garden or lawn, but the pavement!) for what seems like 20 minutes at a time. The first time I saw him do it, I kindly mentioned the water restrictions, and all I got was a surly look and a shrug. Of course, he hasn't stopped since then, and judging from his other rude behavior (leaving trash on the street, letting his dog bark all night), I don't think my persuasive powers are going to amount to much. How do I stop his water wasting ways?
What a hoser! I applaud you for trying to get him to see the error of his sprays. Drought impacts more than our ready supply of clean drinking water; it also has a tremendous effect on the economy. California's third consecutive year of drought means that fire risk increases, construction jobs are put on hold due to lack of water supply (which results in the loss of thousands of jobs), and crops inevitably suffer. And the future looks pretty grim: According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, dry weather conditions in the western US are likely to continue and even intensify as global warming starts to take hold. Since how we approach conservation is ultimately going to determine our survival, we may as well start learning how to modify our habits now.
That's the scary stuff, which I'm sure you already know, since you're so conscientious about conserving. But what can you do about the clueless people in your midst? (Or, even worse, what do you do if those scofflaws know darn well what they're doing and just don't give a hoot?) Normally, if this were merely an issue of personal choice -- such as eating organic food -- I wouldn't suggest intervening; Eco Etiquette has learned that when it comes to green matters, lecturing is about as convincing as a mother nagging her teenage son. But this is a matter of public welfare.
I'm giving you permission to be a snitch and save the day: For starters, in most cities and towns afflicted by drought, there's a public hotline you can call to report water wasters. In Los Angeles, for example, you can call 1-800-DIAL-DWP and alert the water conservation team to the offender's address. You can find this information for your hometown on the website of your local water department (Googling "report water waste" and then the name of your city/town usually works, too). And don't worry about retaliation; most hotlines allow you to file the report anonymously.
But while you're at it, why not use this as an opportunity to organize a neighborhood green watch? Invite everyone on your street to a backyard potluck barbecue and ask them each to bring one dish and one idea for bettering the block. As you're smiling and handing out margaritas, casually bring up your pet project: water conservation. I'm sure you're not the only one dealing with H2O offenders, and the group might come up with some creative solutions to other environmental issues as well (people not recycling, doggie doo left on the sidewalk, etc.).
Send all your eco-inquiries to Jennifer Grayson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions may be edited for length and clarity.