Sprinkling Stupidity (#215)

Look at how my neighbors water their green lawn…and the cement sidewalk.

I grew up in a swamp. D.C. is ridiculously hot and humid in the summer. A blanket of oppressive, immobile air suffocates the city for weeks at a time, only stirring for the occasional afternoon thunderstorm. But the thunderstorm doesn’t wash away the misery, oh, no. It just makes the ground steam.

All the water makes for lush, green lawns with minimal watering. I never saw a sprinkler system until I moved to Los Angeles. At first I had no idea why various lawns had black knobs on them – until I happened to be walking a roommate’s dog in Burbank one morning. After the knobs popped up and spewed water all over us, I figured out that, duh, of course you can’t have a green lawn in a desert without automated sprinklers.

Surprisingly, Californians, pioneers of catalytic converters and clean air, cling to their green lawns despite our near permanent drought status. On my street, there is exactly one house landscaped with California native plants instead of a green grass lawn. (It’s gorgeous and it smells awesome and it cost thousands of dollars.)

The rest of the neighborhood has perhaps 10 houses with Astroturf, or cacti, or gravel, or all three.

Everyone else has green lawns. Some are super green. I’ve been hit by sprinklers at 5 AM and again at 7 PM — AT THE SAME HOUSE. Even when drought ordinances mandated that sprinklers could only be used every three days, people continued watering twice a day.

Is it ignorance? If so, it must be willful ignorance. Because a lot of those same houses had newspapers on their front steps – newspapers with front pages screaming about the drought.

Maybe it’s a different kind of ignorance. Maybe they don’t understand their sprinkler systems. (You laugh, but I didn’t know how ours worked until Andy was injured last year.) If theses aren’t DIY folks, though, they could certainly tell their gardeners to adjust the sprinklers, couldn’t they?

Andy installed a drip system for my flowerbeds and his garden after we moved in, which cut down on our water usage. We supplemented our plants’ intake with buckets of “warm up” water from the shower. Any water we boiled for cooking we used for my hanging baskets, our fountain, or window boxes when it cooled.

Two years ago, amidst the worst drought in California history, Lieutenant LAPD next door installed a new fountain. Does it use re-circulated water, as it was legally required to do?

Of course not.

Another house installed a picturesque little pond with a bridge in their front yard at the same time. It was pretty as fuck and as illegal as hell. Sometimes it overflows. My dogs and I once had to wade through a creek of RUNNING WATER, pouring over the sidewalk and into the street in the middle of a nine-year drought.


During the drought, California tried to crack down on water-wasters. Utilities raised the cost of water. Our water bill jumped a hundred dollars. I am sure our water-loving neighbors’ bills jumped several hundred.

Their sprinklers kept running.

When increasing the cost of water had no effect, cities set up hotlines to report water-wasters. All over Los Angeles, water vigilantes cruised their neighborhoods and reported those who refused to comply with the drought-stricken state’s laws. (I may have been one of them.) Some folks attempted to shame water wasters in public and online.

I don’t know if the offenders were ever fined. I do know that my neighbors continued running their sprinklers. I continued fuming.

After record-breaking rain last year ended the drought in most of California, we had an abnormally dry winter. Our snowpack is a fraction of what it should be.

It’s not just California, either. All over the world, climate change, overpopulation, and lack of conservation drain the water supply. Cape Town, in South Africa – with a climate similar to SoCal – is expected to run out of water in just a few months. The plethora of piped, purified water that industrialized nations are used to is drying up.

What are people doing about our disappearing water supply? Very little, if we go by my neighborhood.

Last week, Los Angeles finally got several much-needed rainstorms. The dogs and I had to jump all kinds of puddles on our morning walks. And even as I rejoiced in the raindrops on my face, I cursed my short-sighted and stupid neighbors.

Because their goddamned sprinklers were still on
in the rain
soaking my ankles.

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

20 thoughts on “Sprinkling Stupidity (#215)”

  1. The dire situation in Cape Town has really made me think differently about water. So scary. And Joburg could be next. I’m already flushing my toilet a lot less.

    1. Ah, I did not know Joburg was also in danger. But I guess that’s not surprising, given the climate. In Los Angeles, it’s the low income families who’ve done the best job saving water. Meanwhile, the rich keep wasting all that’s been saved. Maddening. If I had the money, I’d re-landscape with native plants. Someday. In the meantime, the roses survive with the help of our blue buckets.

  2. We had a severe drought in the east about 10 years ago. There were all sorts of regs about watering and washing cars. Most people took it seriously. You could tell who did by looking at the lawns. It was a brown couple of years.

    1. I know. Maybe people are busy, or just don’t care. Or they don’t obsess about the weather like I do. But I wish they would mandate more water-saving devices and plants for new construction and remodels.

  3. I have an idea to save water!! Connect the shower and the hand basin drains to the toilet water deposit, so you flush your used shower water. I’m not sure if it’s easily doable though.

    Those people letting the sprinklers on even when it’s raining… are they super rich so they don’t care about paying a water bill for nothing?

    1. I’m not sure. My neighborhood isn’t known as a rich one. I can’t figure it out.

      My neighbor with the native plants remodeled all her plumbing so that “grey water” from baths or dishes can be used for her garden. But it was a huge project. She has rain barrels, too.

  4. Rage-inducing, is right. Your neighbor’s pond is lovely. I can see wanting a cute little pond, but when you live in a desert climate, there must be something else that would be attractive.

    Many years ago, I read Centennial by James Michener, and the one thing I remember from that book is that LA shouldn’t exist, or at least it wouldn’t exist as a large city without all the political tricks that took water from Colorado.

    Even in the rainy Pacific Northwest, there are years when we’re asked to limit our summer watering.

    1. Yep. We shouldn’t exist and neither should Las Vegas. I remember Barbara Kingsolver writing about how she left Arizona because the land couldn’t support them in “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.” But she had land back in Virginia and a career that was mobile. Few people have those options.

  5. ‘It was pretty as fuck and as illegal as hell.’ Is that their fancy pond and bridge setup in that photo? I don’t understand why some people just don’t mind wasting water. As you said, not only does it affect the bills but that means water everywhere when there’s so much rain. I never got a pond or any kind of front yard water fixture when I was renting a house – always preferred to hose the lawn instead. The hose (a really thick one) might be heavy for me but I see it as a good form of exercise.

    Some people just do not care.

  6. It is frustrating, isn’t it? Despite the abundance of water here in SE Asia and specifically Thailand, we still go through droughts, too. And you’d see people watering their sidewalks or driveways. God forbid they use a broom or something. Folks think they live in this amazing abundant world, and while we do, we fail to work together when we need to, unless the consequences are immediate and dire.

  7. I love how it rained in California for 4 months and they called off the drought. Thanks California.

    I can’t believe your neighbor built a fountain–good lord. Talk about American luxury!

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