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People in British Columbia are ‘Drought Shaming’ Rich Residents

A water shortage has some social media users grumbling about the green lawns of the city's 1 percenters.

by Sierra Bein
Jul 27 2015, 10:00pm

Stop watering your goddamn lawns. Stop it. Photo via Flickr user Gordon

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

Frustrated residents in drought-stricken British Columbia have kicked off a new social media trend by calling out residents for breaking water restrictions.

On the coast where brown is the new green and wildfires are rampant, VICE reported last week on the Metro Vancouver announcement that the region is now in a Stage 3 water restriction. Residents are no longer be able to water lawns, wash cars, or refill public pools in an attempt to conserve water for drinking and hygienic purposes.

"Drought shaming" is the practice of neighbors ratting on each other over social media for indeed having greener grass on the other side of the fence—and also for not following water restrictions by wasting drinking water. It gained speed in California after the state started to experience one of their worst droughts in decades. Californians began to name and shame celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Kanye West and other rich fancy-pants Angelenos for their eerily lush grass. Actor/mustache aficionado Tom Selleck has to pay $21,000 to a California water district in a settlement after allegedly hiring a company to transport water from that district to his house.

On VICE News: The Value of Water on the West Coast — And Why California Is So Screwed

BC's recent embrace of the drought-shaming movement includes folks like this Imgur user who has been posting images and addresses of rich people's houses where the lawns are still green—alleging that they have been watering them.

Meanwhile, a Facebook page called Grassholes asks residents to rat out their neighbors: "If you notices [sic] citizens of Metro Vancouver who choose green grass over having enough water to last the summer. Take a photo of the address and the water activity and call them a GRASSHOLE!!"

Urban Dictionary describes the grasshole (not that this really needs an explanation) as a "Person who doesn't participate in eco-friendly living. They chuck their recyclables, leave their lights on, grab a handful of plastic bags, drive their rumbling Hummers through flocks of majestic birds, and refuse to join the grassroots movement."

VICE spoke to Brian Crowe, Vancouver's director for water, sewers, and district energy about the drought shaming movement.

"We're not trying to foster the shaming, and we don't participate directly in that, but we get the results of it because we get a huge number of calls since the restrictions have gone to level three," he said. Crowe also doesn't approve of the term grassholes, but prefers that residents still respect one another.

The city doesn't use social media to help track offenders, but a lot of neighbors have been calling in and alerting officials about others online.

"Last week, we were getting more than 100 calls per day, for just within the city of Vancouver," Crowe told VICE. "We had about 600 calls in the first five days of the level three restrictions."

As of Friday, the city had issued 21,080 warning letters and 36 violation tickets. There is a $250 [$190 USD] fine for anyone who breaks the restrictions, but the city is aiming to inform and warn residents prior to issuing tickets, so they can do the right thing before facing penalties.

"Most years, there would only be two bylaw officers enforcing sprinkling regulation," he said. "This year, with the dry weather, we started with four, but as of the middle of last week we've increased that to 14."

Crowe says that more tickets are likely to come because this year, officers no longer give a warning ticket if they catch you wasting water. Instead, due to the severe drought, if a bylaw officer finds you offending, you will get a ticket right away.

However, in Nanaimo, which is currently under a Stage 4 water ban—the highest level of water restriction—they are trying to do the opposite of shaming. The region has started a weekly contest to praise people for saving water rather than wasting it. Guidelines to be a good little water saver include letting your lawn go brown, planting drought tolerant plants, and reusing water.

"Well, certainly it's a much better long-term approach," said Crowe of the suburb's tactics. "At this particular point... we're being a little more assertive in terms of enforcement."

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