The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Droughtshaming: California drought vigilantes humiliate wasteful neighbors

A sprinkler in Los Angeles on April 17. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Earlier this month on the streets of Orange County, Calif., there was little evidence the state was in the middle of a historic drought. Sure, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) had given a speech about a “different world” that demands conservation, but many a golf course was lush, and many a car was sparkling clean. At Disneyland, the “It’s a Small World” ride ferried visitors in its endless, cheery circle. In the center of the city of Orange, a fountain shot jets into the air. Sure, the occasional citizen might be taking advantage of programs that pay homeowners to rip up their lawns, but many lawns looked as watered as ever.

[PHOTOS: Calif. governor orders restrictions on water use]

Now — as some jurisdictions impose fines on those who won’t turn off their garden hoses — some are taking their neighbors to task on social media for what they perceive as the profligate use of H20. It’s a witch hunt — or, perhaps, much-needed vigilante justice — called “#droughtshaming.”

[Jerry Brown battles Calif. water crisis created by his father, Gov. Pat Brown]

“I am a water crusader,” said Tony Corcoran, a man profiled by the “Today” show’s “Rossen Reports.” Corcoran, a restaurant manager, records water addicts at their worst and posts the results online.

“Don’t you feel bad when you’re doing this type of work?” Corcoran asked some landscapers on camera. “There’s only one year of water left!”

Though there are even apps that facilitate droughtshaming, some think this strategy is counterproductive.

“Instead of going online and shaming people publicly, which might be useless, why doesn’t this guy just go to the city and tell the city, ‘Stop these people — they’re using too much water,’ ” Karen North, a psychologist and social media expert at the University of Southern California, told “Rossen Reports.”

The show was also able to catch up with one of Corcoran’s targets.

“This is as bad as having drones over your house,” one woman not identified by “Rossen Reports” said. But does Corcoran have a point?

“Well, he sort of does,” the woman said.

[8 fascinating images explain California’s disasterous drought]

Some other examples of the practice culled from social media: