Calif. couple conserves amid drought, could face fine for brown lawn

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 17, 2014 4:16 PM

By Jennifer Chaussee

(Reuters) - A Southern California couple who scaled back watering their lawn amid the state's ongoing drought received a warning from the suburb where they live that they might be fined for creating an eyesore - despite emergency statewide orders to conserve.

Michael Korte and Laura Whitney, who live near Los Angeles in Glendora, said Thursday that they received a letter from the city's code enforcement department warning them that they had 60 days to green up their partially brown lawn or pay a fine ranging from $100 to $500.

"I don't think it's right for us to start pouring water into our lawn in the middle of July during a drought," said Whitney. "We're kind of in a quandary about what to do."

The letter, bearing the official symbols of Glendora and its police department, came in the same week that statewide water regulators passed emergency drought restrictions for outdoor water use. Those regulations, to take effect this August, require cities to demand cutbacks in water use, and empower them to fine residents up to $500 for overwatering their lawns.

California is in the third year of an extreme drought that is expected to cost the state an estimated $2.2 billion and more than 17,000 agricultural jobs. Democratic Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in January.

In Glendora, City Manager Chris Jeffers said the city does encourage conservation, but that Korte and Whitney's lawn was in such bad shape that it was reported as possibly abandoned.

"We were responding to a complaint that we received of a possible abandoned property," Jeffers said. "Crews visited and determine it was not abandoned, but not kept. The landscape was dead and there were large areas of just dirt."

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Instead of citing the couple then and there, he said, officials opted to leave a letter explaining that conserving water did not mean abandoning the landscape.

"Conservation does not mean neighborhoods need to deteriorate because property owners want (the) landscape to die or go unmaintained," he said.

Whitney said the couple had been thinking of smothering the grass lawn at the house and replacing it with a xeriscape or water-free landscaping scheme.

(Reporting by Jennifer Chaussee in San Francisco; Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Lisa Shumaker)