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20-40-60 Etiquette---Sacramento Bee asks! We answer!

(Debbie Arrington from the Sacramento Bee, Sacramento, Ca., reached out to the 20-40-60 team last week with several questions pertaining to water restrictions and neighbors. The California are in a severe drought at this time. Here is what we sent her, with Adam Kemp as a guest writer. Her column ran in the Feb. 4th edition of the Sacramento Bee newspaper and online with several of our mannerly answers. )
Here is a link to the Sacramento Bee article:

QUESTION: If you see a neighbor wasting water (sprinklers on every day, water running down the sidewalk, etc.), what should you do?


If you see that your neighbor is wasting water, you should first talk to them. Let them know about the cutbacks on water use. Before you go to a hotline, or “tattle,” you should first bring it to their attention.

LILLIE-BETH BRINKMAN’S ANSWER (40s): Water shortages and droughts are a good reminder that we’re all in this together, whether “this” refers to things going on in an area that includes the entire planet or as small as our neighborhood.

That’s a good thing to keep in mind when trying to decide how best to handle water-wasting neighbors, especially in times when the situation is dire.

Tempers can run hot like the temperature, but yours doesn’t have to, as you are in charge of how you handle things.

If you can, or have some sort of rapport with the neighbors already, approach them gently about the watering first, before reporting their water sins to the city. Assume the best about them in doing so, that maybe they don’t know which days are set aside for watering or that something has gone wrong with their sprinkler system.

“If neighbors would do that, that’s the kinder and softer way to help us,” said Debbie Ragan, spokesman for the Oklahoma City utilities department, which deals with these complaints during water restriction times. Oklahoma has had its share of them lately, with a drought that has lasted several years.

“Our whole intent of the water conservation program is not to give tickets to people,” Ragan said. “We just want to encourage people to do the right thing.”

HELEN WALLACE’S ANSWER (60-plus): Since there are fines being levied on California residents for water wasting at this time of the drought, it would be a kind thing to do to remind your neighbor about the water rules and conservation efforts so he/she will not get fined. It would probably be best to knock on his/her door and deliver your message in person. If that does not get through to the neighbor, then write a letter and cite the water violations.

If the sprinklers continue, let him/her know (again by mail) that you will alert the authorities if this behavior continues. The tone of the letter and your actions should be very polite, but firm.

GUEST’S ANSWER: Adam Kemp (20s), general assignment reporter for The Oklahoman: If you see a neighbor wasting water you should be straight up with them from the very beginning. You can still be friendly and blunt with people, tell them to cut their water waste and remind them that the rest of neighborhood is being considerate of the rationing and that they should be as well.

I would also casually bring up how much the fine is and tell them you will have to report them if they don’t stop.

Most times, I bet they cut it out.

Callie Gordon, representing the 20s view, works at Chesapeake Energy Corp. in the Environment, Health, and Safety Department. She was previously an event coordinator for Chesapeake Energy.

Lillie-Beth Brinkman, 40s, is content marketing manager for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, and The Oklahoman’s former assistant features editor.

Helen Ford Wallace, 60-plus, is social columnist and blogger for The Oklahoman, writing the weekly Parties, Etc., column.

To ask an etiquette question, email

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Helen Ford Wallace

Helen Ford Wallace is a columnist covering society-related events/news for The Oklahoman. She puts local parties online with daily updates. She creates, maintains and runs a Parties blog which includes web casts. She is an online web editor for... Read more ›

Lillie-Beth Brinkman

Lillie-Beth Brinkman is a Content Marketing Manager for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. She was previously an assistant editor of The Oklahoman Read more ›

Callie Athey

Callie Athey is 20-something and is a graduate from the University of Oklahoma. She has worked in various positions, ranging from Event Coordinator to Environmental Health and Safety Assistant. Currently, Callie is an Executive Assistant to a... Read more ›