When you’re in a steady relationship, communication is clear. Because when mom says to do one thing, and dad says another, the kids get really confused. Such is the case in California, where the state has issued rules for homeowners to conserve water in the midst of extreme drought, with fines of $500 per day or violating those guidelines, but one city is threatening to fine a couple $500 — unless they water their lawn.

In the epitome of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation, Laura and Mark received notice from Glendora, Calif. that they’d get a $500 penalty for not watering their brown lawn… on the same day the state approved mandatory outdoor watering restrictions with the same fine for violating that attached, $500.

Why is the lawn brown? Because they’re conserving water. Why are they conserving water? Because California asked them to — the state water board chairman even called brown lawns in Cali a “badge of honor.”

But Mom and dad aren’t communicating effectively, it seems.

“Despite the water conservation efforts, we wish to remind you that limited watering is still required to keep landscaping looking healthy and green,” says the letter, according to the Associated Press, setting a 60-day deadline to get the brown green again.

They’re not alone in the confusion, Laura adds.

“My friends in Los Angeles got these letters warning they could be fined if they water, and I got a letter warning that I could be fined for not watering,” she explains. “I felt like I was in an alternate universe.”

While there’s nothing on the books that says local governments can’t fine citizens for brown lawns, Gov. Jerry Brown’s office isn’t a fan of those fees, either.

“These efforts to conserve should not be undermined by the short-sighted actions of a few local jurisdictions, who chose to ignore the statewide crisis we face, the farmers and farmworkers losing their livelihoods, the communities facing drinking water shortages and the state’s shrinking reservoirs,” said Amy Norris, a spokeswoman for the California Environmental Protection Agency, in a written statement.

But local officials say you shouldn’t have to choose between nice landscaping and being drought-conscious — just because there’s a dearth of water doesn’t mean you have the right to drive down property values, by way of drought-resistant landscaping or turf removal programs.

“During a drought or non-drought, residents have the right to maintain their landscaping the way they want to, so long as it’s aesthetically pleasing and it’s not blighted,” said Al Baker, president of the California Association of Code Enforcement Officers.

Another resident who received violation notices in Orange County says she spent $600 installing such drought-resistant landscaping, and still thinks the whole thing is nuts, especially when she sees signs urging residents to conserve water.

“It’s almost crazy because one agency is telling you one thing and another is forcing you to do the opposite,” she said.


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