The sod squad wants to soak you

  • water use illustration

    Diane Sylvain

Look out, you water scofflaws - it's "water-efficiency month," and enforcement agencies across the West will not look lightly upon water-wasting infractions. Water cops are tossing out tickets that range from a slap on the wrist (and a free how-to-conserve-water brochure) for leaky faucets, to a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail for illegal lawn watering.

In the Denver area, be on high alert for the Denver Water Department's 24-hour "sod squad," which roams the city looking for malefactors. So far this summer, squad members have cited more than 1,700 offenders and issued almost $4,000 in fines, though they have yet to use their ultimate weapon: the flow restrictor - sort of a wheel boot for your home-watering system. Even though the sod squad is only four people strong, don't think you can escape - most often, it's tattling neighbors who'll rat you out.

If the water conservation police don't find you, the public education campaigns will. Newspaper ads in the Denver Post implore, among other things, that "Real men dry shave." (Denver Water, which sponsors the ads, has even advised painting your grass green, as some folks do in Santa Fe, where flowers get a dollop of artificial color and plastic grass is all the rage.) Radio ads in Utah feature Gov. Mike Leavitt singing, "Slow the flow, save H2O!" Online, you'll find the Sacramento Water Works Association's Web site, where kids can download Mr. Leaky's House, "a water-saving adventure game." Before long, playing day and night, they'll be tossing around water conservation tips like pop lyrics.

Don't think you can escape by moving to another town. In Boulder, the city has replaced flowers in town parks with pinwheels. In Santa Fe, the city is handing out hundreds of free low-flow toilets (with a $40 installation fee). The Castle Pines Golf Club, in Castle Rock, Colo. - a haven of stability, even in these times of drought - has banned smoking on the course because of extreme fire danger.

The water-conservation mantra pops up even in Phoenix, where you might find the message "Be in the know, save H2O" hidden inside a fortune cookie. If you're real lucky, you might bump into Lisa Hemphill, hobbling around in a giant blue $2,000 latex water droplet costume, subliminally urging you to use water wisely. But she won't tell you so directly, because, according to her boss, Karen Young, at the Gilbert, Ariz., water district, "Good mascots don't talk."

The message, sometimes plain, sometimes disguised, is everywhere.

Jon Waldman is a High Country News intern.

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