5 Ways People Are Drought Shaming Their Neighbors

California residents turn to technology to put water wasters on blast.

(Photo: Richard Ross/Getty Images)

Jun 4, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

When dealing with water wasters, it seems the old adage “No one likes a tattletale” is no longer true. With California in its worst drought in 1,200 years—the state issued its first-ever mandatory water restrictions in April—residents of the Golden State are becoming pros at ratting out people in their communities who squander H2O.

Depending on the city, people and businesses caught ignoring drought restrictions can be fined $100 to $600. However, Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed fines of up to $10,000.

Although some cities are hiring water cops—paid employees who stroll the streets looking for violators of water restrictions—the bulk of the policing is being done by private citizens using technology. That might seem Orwellian, but drought shamers are more worried about what might happen if people dont get serious about water conservation. So theyre eagerly turning the spotlight on their neighbors—and on local business owners—who do things like hose down sidewalks instead of sweeping leaves and twigs away with a broom. Here are five ways this new generation of tattletales is blasting folks who misuse water.

1. Through Twitter

Head over to Twitter and type in the hashtags #DroughtShame or #DroughtShaming. You’ll see a slew of tweets—usually accompanied by photos or videos—posted by people spotlighting water waste in their neighborhoods or on college campuses.

Calling out the verdant lawns of celebrities has become popular in recent weeks.

But its critical to note that some of the celeb-lawn-shaming images being tweeted aren’t current and don’t reflect the efforts some rich and famous folks have made to reduce their water usage.

RELATED: The Loophole That Could Let the Wealthy Escape Mandatory Water Restrictions

2. On a Website

It’s not unusual for cities to have websites where residents can report a broken streetlight or ask for a pothole to be filled. But given the lack of rain, some municipalities have added functionality that allows people to blab about water usage. In Los Angeles, for example, visitors to the city’s MyLA 3-1-1 website can check a box to report on H2O misuse. Users are asked to input an address or an intersection and describe what theyre reporting: “Please report water runoff, over-watering, incorrect watering days, or any other water waste that you observe,” the website suggests.

3. With an App

We use them to figure out what chemicals are in our cosmetics or how much exercise we’re getting, so it’s no surprise that apps are being used to snitch on water wasters. Many are being created by local governments, but private entrepreneurs are getting in on the action too. DroughtShameApp, which was created by Dan Estes, a Santa Monica, California, real estate agent, lets people post geotagged footage of water misuse. “It just seems like something has to be done to avoid a long-term catastrophe,” Estes told NPR.

(Photo: DroughtShame)

Although VizSafe, a crowdsourcing app that lets people share geotagged photos and videos, wasn’t created with the intention of drought shaming people, folks are using it that way. “Users are posting information about their neighbors who are wasting water,” Peter Mottur, the app’s creator, told NPR.

4. Through Video-Sharing Platforms

For the past seven months, water vigilante Tony Corcoran—also known as Western Water Luv—has posted dozens of videos to YouTube that show waste happening outside homes, businesses, and schools. In this video, he documents a home sprinkler system that is operating on a prohibited day and for a longer time than allowed.

Residents of other drought-afflicted Western states are beginning to mimic the shaming behaviors of Californians. Some are using other video-sharing platforms, such as Vine, to post geotagged videos of irresponsible water use. Case in point: fountains, swimming pools, and golf courses in hot, dry Arizona.

5. With a Phone Call

Dialing a city office to report water misuse seems positively old-school compared with all the Internet-based snitching options out there. But not every citizen owns a smartphone or has easy access to a computer. Many cities are advertising phone numbers that residents can dial to report waste.

So, are these methods working? According to California’s State Water Resources Control Board, more than 22,000 complaints of water waste were submitted in April. During the same month, statewide usage dipped 13.5 percent. That might be a coincidence, but it suggests that awareness of the need to conserve is up.