Some call themselves "drought busters," others prefer "water cop." But the people caught sprinkling and hosing when they shouldn't have far less flattering names for the officers hired to enforce California's water rationing.
"A woman I caught with her sprinkler running into the gutter got so mad at me she wrote my boss and said I was a `water witch,' " said Rene Frenken, whose title with the city of Palo Alto is "gush buster."Frenken, who patrols the city just south of San Francisco by bicycle, would rather be known as a "water cop."
She and others are taking to the streets from San Francisco to Los Angeles in patrol cars, on motor scooters and bicycles enforcing water rationing during one of the worst droughts in California history.
The drought, now in its fifth year, is a year short of being the state's longest dry spell. A drought that began in the late 1920s lasted six years.
Frenken, like more traditional police officers, says she can sniff out the crimes.
"In the summer time, when it's really dry, I can smell the water," she said. "When there's moisture in the air, you can sense it. And I keep my ears open for the sound of sprinklers."
Frenken's fellow gush buster, Max Killen, says the job is not easy.
"One time an elderly woman just kept screaming and screaming at me, and all I wanted to do was tell her her sprinkler was on," said Killen, who patrols on a moped.
Like a regular cop, Killen has plenty of informants, and he also answers plenty of false-alarm calls.
"We get a lot of calls from people ratting on their neighbor," he said. "Most of the time we go out and find nothing. They just call to get people in trouble."
Penalties vary from city to city, but fines for first-time water wasters are generally about $50.