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Amid drought, Utah residents report neighbours on 'Hall of Fame or Shame' site

Monday, June 21st 2021, 3:23 pm - Residents are logging on to tell officials about water-wasteful neighbours.

Utah is currently dealing with one of the worst state-wide droughts in decades, prompting Gov. Spencer Cox to declare a state of emergency in March while issuing executive orders to restrict water use.

Some cities are implementing fines to ensure water is conserved.

Earlier this month, officials encouraged people to report water wasters to the state's Hall of Fame or Shame website, a tool that was established in 2017 but rarely used (last year, it only received 167 tips).

Within two days of that announcement, the website received 1,087 reports, replacing the previous all-time high of 364 total logged in 2019.

Some were complimentary but the majority - 1,059 of them - were complaints of water overuse. A few days later, there were more than 3,300 reports logged on the site.

The filings aren't made public and are passed along to corresponding water suppliers, who can reach out to the named parties to offer assistance or provide tips. In an email, Utah Division of Water Resources spokesperson Kim Wells said the site isn't intended to shame but rather, improve water efficiencies. Nobody has been subjected to "punitive action" due to a report, Wells said.

"This tool is a place to report water waste so it can be improved. We also love to spotlight efficient examples," Wells added.

DOES DROUGHT SHAMING WORK?

In 2015, the state of California set up a "drought shaming" site, essentially letting residents tattle on their water-wasting neighbours.

But there is some debate on whether or not publicly shaming private citizens is an effective strategy. In California, for example, some of the largest offenders were wealthier residents who weren't deterred by fines or a bit of media attention, so public shaming likely wasn't a big motivator.

In the case of the Utah website, Wells told media people are generally supportive of the site because reports are kept private and they're used to open a dialogue with the people who are named in them.

Officials recently said Utah's drought conditions are similar to the historic dustbowl conditions of the 1930s, elevating wildfire risk and putting the crops grown on Utah's 18,200 farms at risk.

Thumbnail image courtesy: Dan Gold/Unsplash

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