Amid California drought, Los Angeles water department waters fake grass

A sprinkler sprays water onto fake grass outside a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power facility.

CBS Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is trying to set an example on how to reduce water use amid California’s fifth consecutive year of severe drought.

The DWP has, for example, installed drought-tolerant plants and fake grass at its substations.

“We stopped watering the grass to do our part to save water,” a sign at the South LA substation says.

But a CBS Los Angeles investigation found the water has not stopped flowing outside DWP buildings. Rather, the DWP has installed sprinklers to soak its fake grass for minutes at a time.

The seemingly superfluous watering has angered neighbors who say they’ve taken pains to reduce their own water use amid the threat of citations. The DWP has stepped up its enforcement against heavy water users this year, issuing more than two dozen financial penalties to homeowners in the first four months of the year, according to reports.

“They’re quick to fine us for certain things, overwatering or whatever,” said Amber Gordon, who lives near the DWP’s South LA substation and has let her formerly green lawn turn brown to save water. “That kind of raise questions.”

On a recent Thursday morning, sprinklers ran for six minutes, soaking fake grass outside the South LA substation. Even an area completely devoid of grass -- real or fake -- was inundated by water from sprinklers.

The excess water ran down the sidewalk and toward the street in an apparent violation of city code stating, “No customer of the Department shall use water in a manner that causes or allows excess or continuous water flow or runoff onto an adjoining sidewalk, driveway, street, gutter or ditch.” Such runoff is prohibited even for recycled “gray” water.

Substations in Studio City and Los Feliz were also found to be outfitted with sprinklers set in artificial turf.

So, why is the DWP letting so much water go seemingly to waste?

“We’re rinsing the grass to make it more sanitary,” said Richard Harasick, director of water operations at the DWP.

The department said it waters fake grass at 10 locations for a few minutes a week, water use it said is allowed under current water-use ordinances.

Harasick said leaving the turf unwashed leaves a foul smell in the air.

“We’re really just trying to wash out dog pee,” he said.