In California, Technology Makes Droughtshaming Easier Than Ever
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The water restrictions imposed as a result of California's drought are turning neighbor against neighbor. Lately, it's droughtshaming - you see someone wasting water, you call them out, sometimes publicly. NPR's Sam Sanders reports new technologies make droughtshaming easier than ever before.
SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Someone turned in Los Angeles resident Jane Demian for water wasting - excess water runoff to be exact. But Demian says she's not even sure she's responsible.
JANE DEMIAN: My neighbor next door runs his sprinkler and then the sprinkler water - it waters my sidewalk actually.
SANDERS: The letter she got from the LA Department of Water and Power was only a warning, but it left Demian kind of emotional.
DEMIAN: I'm shocked. I'm a little paranoid and I'm a little squeamish now about even watering at all. Like, I can't really trust people anymore, and so I wonder now who was it, you know? Who turned me in?
SANDERS: As bad as Demian's story may sound, it could've been worse. She was called out privately. Not everyone is so lucky.
MICHELLE FIGUEROA: We are on Twitter all the time. It's a very effective message for us to push out information as well as receive it.
SANDERS: Michelle Figueroa is a spokesperson for LA's Department of Water and Power. Twitter is one of her office's newest tools in fighting water waste. LADWP has a Twitter account, and they track reports sent to them there.
FIGUEROA: The social media version of folks calling in on their neighbor.
SANDERS: Just much more intense. If you search Twitter for the hashtag #DroughtShame or #DroughShaming, you'll find hundreds of very public reprimands, often with pictures and video and lots of addresses. A private phone this is not, but wait, there's more.
DAN ESTES: Full name is Dan Estes and I'm the developer of the DroughtShame app.
SANDERS: Yeah, there is a drought shame app. Dan Estes lives in Santa Monica, Calif. He's a real estate agent by day. Estes showed me how the app worked in an NPR studio.
ESTES: I open the app and the first thing they do - report water waste. Click the button - right away it knows exactly where you are. So this is your address.
SANDERS: Oh, it got my address.
ESTES: Didn't type it in. It's based off the GPS of the phone.
Estes's app isn't the only one. There's another one called VizSafe. It wasn't intended for drought shamers, but now it's become a drought shaming hub where you can share reports on a constantly updating map that's totally public. But all this data and Estes's DroughtShame app - is it useful?
DEAN KUBANI: What he's doing sounds somewhat redundant to what we already have in place.
SANDERS: Dean Kubani is the sustainability manager for the city of Santa Monica. He's never heard of DroughtShame or VizSafe. He says his city already has its own drought shaming app.
KUBANI: We call it the GO system.
SANDERS: You can use it to upload reports on all kinds of things - fallen branches, potholes and, yes, water wasters. LA has a similar app, too, called MyLA 311. Kubani says he isn't even sure he could use the data from Estes's DroughtShame app.
KUBANI: It might be very outdated. I don't know where it came from. I wouldn't be able to verify it.
SANDERS: So if you use an unofficial app to report someone, it might not get to the right person. And if you call someone out on Twitter but don't direct message or tag LA Department of Water and Power, they might not see that either. Proving once again not all data is good data, but city reps from LA and Santa Monica said they're open to talking with Dan Estes about his DroughtShame app. Whatever happens with all that data, Jane Demian has changed her behavior.
DEMIAN: I've been taking my watering can, believe it or not, and watering with my watering can like see everybody, I don't have my hose, OK (laughter)?
SANDERS: Sometimes just a shame can be enough. Sam Sanders, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.