A few California cities start water-waste patrols

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In this photo taken Tuesday, March 11, 2014, Steve Upton, right, explains to Larry Barber how to use the water timer Upton installed on the water spigot at the Barber home in Sacramento, Calif. Upton, an inspector for the water conservation unit of the Sacramento Utilities department, follows up on tips concerning city residents wasting water in one of California’s driest years on record. During his visit to the Barbers, after receiving a tip they were watering their lawn on a non-watering day, Upton installed the water timer and gave them information on how to conserve water.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

In this photo taken Tuesday, March 11, 2014, Steve Upton, right, explains to Larry Barber how to use the water timer Upton installed on the water spigot at the Barber home in Sacramento, Calif. Upton, an inspector for the water conservation unit of the Sacramento Utilities department, follows up on tips concerning city residents wasting water in one of California’s driest years on record. During his visit to the Barbers, after receiving a tip they were watering their lawn on a non-watering day, Upton installed the water timer and gave them information on how to conserve water.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

In this photo taken Tuesday, March 11, 2014, Steve Upton, right, gives LIna Barber a low water flow water nozzle during his visit to the Barber home in Sacramento, Calif. Upton, an inspector for the water conservation unit for the Sacramento Utilities department, follows up on tips concerning city residents wasting water in one of California’s driest years on record. During his visit to the Barber home, after receiving a tip they had watered their lawn on non-watering days, Upton installed a water timer and gave them information on how to conserve water.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

In this photo taken Tuesday, March 11, 2014, Steve Upton, an inspector for the water conservation unit for the Sacramento Utilities department, checks on a leaking small valve pipe, near a commercial building, that could cause as much of 100 gallons a month to be lost, while making his rounds in Sacramento, Calif. At least 45 water agencies throughout California have imposed mandatory restrictions on water use as their supplies run dangerously low. In the first three months of the year, Sacramento has received 3,245 water waste complaints with officials issuing 350 violations in a recent two-day sweep to catch people watering their landscaping on the wrong days.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

In this photo taken Tuesday, March 11, 2014, an informational door hanger is left by Steve Upton, an inspector for the water conservation unit for the Sacramento Utilities department, on the front door of a residence that a tipster has alleged to have been wasting water in Sacramento, Calif. At least 45 water agencies throughout California have imposed mandatory restrictions on water use as their supplies run dangerously low. In the first three months of the year, Sacramento has received 3,245 water waste complaints with officials issuing 350 violations in a recent two-day sweep to catch people watering their landscaping on the wrong days.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

In this photo taken Tuesday, March 11, 2014, Steve Upton, an inspector for the water conservation unit for the Sacramento Utilities department, climbs out of his truck to make an inspection of an alleged water waste while making his rounds in Sacramento, Calif. At least 45 water agencies throughout California have imposed mandatory restrictions on water use as their supplies run dangerously low. In the first three months of the year, Sacramento has received 3,245 water waste complaints with officials issuing 350 violations in a recent two-day sweep to catch people watering their landscaping on the wrong days.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Steve Upton thinks of himself more as an “Officer Friendly” than a water cop.

On a recent sunny day, the water waste inspector rolled through a quiet Sacramento neighborhood in his white pickup truck after a tipster tattled on people watering their lawns on prohibited days.

He approached two culprits. Rather than slapping them with fines, Upton offered to change the settings on their sprinkler systems.

“I don’t want to crack down on them and be their Big Brother,” said Upton, who works for the water conservation unit of Sacramento’s utilities department. “People don’t waste water on purpose. They don’t know they are wasting water.”

At least 45 water agencies throughout California, including Sacramento, are imposing and enforcing mandatory restrictions on water use as their supplies run dangerously low. Sacramento is one of the few bigger agencies actively patrolling streets for violators and encouraging neighbors to report waste.

They teach residents to avoid hosing down driveways, overwatering lawns or filling swimming pools. While gentle reminders are preferred, citations and fines can follow for repeat offenders.

“We do have the stick if people don’t get it,” said Kim Loeb, natural resource conservation manager in Visalia, a city of 120,000 people that has hired a part-time worker for night patrols and reduced the number of warnings from two to one before issuing $100 fines.

Mandatory restrictions aren’t as widespread as in previous droughts, even among the drier parts of Southern California. One reason is more cities are conserving and making it expensive for residents to guzzle water.

Sacramento, where about half the homes are unmetered, is deploying the state’s most aggressive water patrols to compensate. In February, the city of 475,000 deputized 40 employees who drive regularly for their jobs, such as building inspectors and meter readers, to report and respond to water waste. Of them, six are on water patrol full-time.

Providing a boost to their efforts is a campaign asking residents to report neighbors and local businesses breaking the rules. In the first three months of this year, Sacramento has received 3,245 water waste complaints, compared to 183 in the same period last year.

“There are tons of eyes out there watching everywhere,” said Upton, looking at a computerized map of

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