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Water - The Enforcers

Watering restrictions went into effect this week - releasing investigators to police the valley's lawns. As KNPR's Ky Plaskon reports, they are not ones to fear, in fact they rely on the watchful eye of citizens who self-police the neighborhoods.


TRACK 1 (sound of car starting)

Water investigators for the Las Vegas Valley Water District like Johann Feller . . . start their SUV's at 2 am and drive around quiet neighborhood at night with their searchlights. When they come across a stream of water gurgling down the gutter, they calmly follow it around corners until they find the source. Then they leave a calling card on the door describing the problem. Feller would rather talk to the owners.

Track 4 3:18-3:43 ''If it is a reasonable hour we will ring the door bell. It is much easier when we can show them first hand what is causing the water waste and it is much easier for them to see how it can be fixed, so pretty much any chance we get we will talk with the property owner.''

Feller's SUV is emblazoned with the image of a magnifying glass. These investigators can tell a lot from a little water - how long it's been there for instance, if it flows constantly and even guess the source's problem that's causing the waste.

Track 7 2:40 ''In this case we can see that uphill is dry, but at this point we got runoff coming off the sidewalk and it appears to be a leak from a sprinklerhead in grass along the sidewalk (sound of door opening)''

When they find a problem they get on their computer look up names and log everything. Feller says the computer saves him at least an hour and a half a day compared to the paper system investigators used last year.

An hour means a lot. In less than an hour he's found three streams of wasted water in the Lake Las Vegas area. He admits, water investigators spend a lot of time here, but not because people waste more water here. He's following up on calls from customers. Track 2 :50 ''I would say three quarters of the work that we do is follow up work''

(sound of drought add: ''Man, it's hot, can I have some water?'')

The Water Authority has put together these ads showing thirsty children . . . (sound of drought add: ''splash splash, ha ha ha . . .'')

. . . and children playing in rancid mud of the receding Lake Mead to encourage people to save water and call about wasted water. And they work. Last month, the water authority received 6,400 calls, 2,000 more than usual - allowing the authority to complete One-Third of all the years investigations in just one month. The 12 investigators of the Las Vegas Valley Water District also often get stopped by tipsters.

''Buzz . . . ha ha, my name's Buzz, ya Buzz.''

Take 'Buzz' for instance. He didn't want to reveal his real name when he stopped Investigator Feller. He's tattling on his neighbor who is wasting water.

''It makes me angry.''

But the simple presence of the investigators is having an impact according to Landscaper Juan Villanueva. He says he used to see wasted water a lot . . . but

Track 11 :25 - :34 ''Not lately, ever since you guys started driving around investigating.''

Feller agrees Track 13 :01 ''Since Monday, when the day of the week watering restrictions took effect, there has been a lot less water in the streets. So I think a lot of the residents are familiar with the restrictions.''

Nonetheless, there have been 500 violations and fines for not complying with water restrictions this year, raising 26 thousand dollars for the Las Vegas Valley Water District's conservation programs - programs that cost a half a million dollars. They appear to be working. Las Vegas Water District residents used 17 million gallons of water less yesterday than the district predicted.

For KNPR, I'm Ky Plaskon

TAG: For information about new lawn watering restrictions, call 258-SAVE. The Southern Nevada Water Authority provides financial support to KNPR.