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A closer look: How water authorities patrol Las Vegas for water wasters

Yvette Fernandez/KNPR

With Nevada under stricter water restrictions, the Las Vegas Valley Water District is out patrolling the city looking for water wasters. 

Cameron Donnarumma is one of about a dozen water waste investigators driving throughout Las Vegas. When he finds water sprinklers in use outside of the new fall schedule, which changed the first of the month to three times a week on specific days, he first records the incident.  

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"This is a non-assigned watering day and this property is in violation of that," he said. Most times, people simply aren’t aware. 

"Most people don’t know. They see us out here and they’re usually surprised to find out something’s going on with their sprinkler system," he said. “This property is currently watering on a non-assigned day … during the fall schedule.”  

What if someone tries to do the right thing, watering the right amount but not on the correct days? Is that still a violation?  

"So it’s important to know which watering group you’re in … you just input your address [to check that] … it’ll tell you which group you belong to."

Senior Public Information Coordinator Cory Enus said the aim is not to be punitive, but to educate. 

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What if I just don’t know how to run my sprinkler system?

"We can schedule an educational visit and show people how to change their watering clock if they are uncertain or don’t know how to do it."

What about hand-watering? 

"According to the water district, hand-watering is allowed any time. Watering is allowed as long as someone is handling the hose.  It’s permitted … as long as they are attending the hose."

On another street, there’s a house with sprinklers running. After recording his report, he checks his laptop to see if this is a first time offense or a repeat offender.  

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"In this case, there are two violations occurring," Cameron said. "The second is over-watering. Basically, the water district considers water leaving the property a water waste violation. So in this specific case, they received a warning in April, so that's less than 18 months ago. So it's going to be assessed as a fee."

After the first notice, the water department will assess an initial fee. Enus said after that, the fines double each time:  

"Fines start at $80, then they double," Enus said. "So if it’s habitual, it doubles to $160, then $320, and so on, all the way up to $5,000. So it will become a deterrent, we hope."  

For the most part, inspectors say, most people are like Richard, whose sprinklers were watering way over the time limit on his lawn.  

“Oh, so you put me on blast to the community," he joked. "I had it coming." 

Aside from the water waste investigators, the district also relies on people reporting water waste anywhere they see it through their app. 

"As long as you have your location services on, it’ll correlate to the location and time of day. You can specify the specific type of violation and a picture to go with it," he said, adding they get a lot of those reports. 

Are people becoming more consciensious?

"I think the community's been relatively conscientious. People want to do the right thing and they want their neighbors to do the right thing."

The difference between keeping grass or changing to desert landscaping is significant: "It went from $40 to $120 in one year," Richard said. 

Enus added, "73 gallons per square foot of grass and about 18 gallons of water for drip irrigation. So for every square foot of grass we take out … you save about 55 gallons of water per year."  

Despite the cost and a rebate program, for some, the reluctance is rooted in sentiment. 

"People would be bummed, because this is the dog stop for everybody."

But even sentimentalists can be convinced to change. 

"It’s society. We gotta work together, you know what I mean?"

Yvette Fernandez is the regional reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau. She joined Nevada Public Radio in September 2021.