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opinion

It has been summer on the West Coast for what seems like months now. I can't remember the last time I saw rain of any consequence.

May was the driest in Metro Vancouver since precipitation figures were first recorded in 1937. June has had only a few drops more. Now, an extreme heat wave is expected this weekend. Just south of British Columbia, Washington has declared a state-wide drought emergency. Meantime, climatologists in Canada are talking about the possibility of droughts becoming part of life in the West as snow packs vanish at astonishing rates.

The warm, dry weather in the Vancouver area has raised the spectre of harsh watering restrictions. People now are allowed to water their lawns three times a week, in the early-morning hours only. If heat threatens reservoir levels, authorities will ban lawn sprinkling altogether.

Then the fun will begin.

Many cannot fathom the idea of seeing their lawn transformed into a water-deprived patch of straw, especially those who inhabit the region's swankiest postal codes. They do not abide by the fairly modest watering restrictions in place now. A landscaper friend tells me about homeowners on the west side of Vancouver whose lawns and gardens are watered daily. They do not worry about getting caught and having to pay some paltry fine. They've got the money.

This could change if the water situation becomes more dire and the debate about use more acrimonious. And if you want a glimpse of what that might look like, cast your eyes to California, where "drought shaming" has become an everyday occurrence.

Circumstances in the Golden State become more apocalyptic by the day. The state is experiencing the worst drought in 1,200 years. Governor Jerry Brown has instituted draconian watering restrictions in the hopes of reducing use by 25 per cent. Grass lawns account for 30 per cent to 60 per cent of residential water use, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Mr. Brown has set strict limits on how much a person can water and imposed fines of up to $10,000 (U.S.) for those who ignore them.

The state will pay people to rip up their traditional lawns and replace them with drought-friendly plants and shrubs, or even artificial turf. In many neighbourhoods, this has created a visually unappealing patchwork of garden motifs.

Many residents, especially those in poorer neighbourhoods who are not inclined to risk fines to keep their lawns a resplendent green, have let their grass die. Meantime, some homeowner associations in more upscale communities have fined or threatened to fine anyone who complies with the conservation measures.

All of which has helped to provoke a veritable class war. People have taken to social media to drought shame those caught hosing down their driveways, watering lawns when they should not, or setting up kids' water slides in their front yards. Pictures and videos of those caught ignoring the preservation edicts have been blasted all over social media.

The greatest wrath has been reserved for the rich and famous. The New York Post took aerial shots of the Hollywood homes of several major celebrities, including Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, Barbra Streisand, Jennifer Lopez and Hugh Hefner. The pictures showed stunning mansions with verdant, emerald-coloured lawns. "Here's what celebrities' houses look like during the drought," the Post headline screamed. The story generated widespread outrage.

In Montecito, in Santa Barbara County, home to some of the wealthiest people in the United States, it was discovered that Oprah Winfrey and some of her neighbours have been shipping in water from other areas of the state (at a cost of up to $15,000 a month) to skirt local water restrictions. Cue more indignation.

The drought has enunciated California's class divide in a whole new way; the rich still have lawns as green as a fairway at Augusta, while the yards of the working poor and middle class are the colour of a prairie wheat field.

Perhaps not surprisingly, water shaming has made its way to Canada. Recently, someone in Guelph, Ont., tweeted a picture of a neighbour hosing down his driveway while the municipality was in an elevated water-conservation mode. Expect lots more of this type of neighbour snitching as climate change imposes new rules on all of us – well, most of us, anyway.