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Community groups spread water conservation message to LA's immigrant enclaves

File: Water runs from a tap. Some Inland Empire residents have had funny smelling water recently.
Groups that serve diverse immigrant groups are part of a DWP grant program that does outreach on water conservation.

There’s a Japanese term for “waste not, want not.” It comes in handy these days for people like Jessica Kanai.

“We have the concept mottainai, which essentially means 'don’t be wasteful," said Kanai, an outreach coordinator with the Little Tokyo Service Center. "We like to incorporate existing cultural values into what we are explaining.”
In this case, explaining to immigrant families the severity of California's drought - and what to do about it.
The Little Tokyo group is one 21 community groups receiving grant funding from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to spread the conservation message. Many of these groups serve immigrant communities.

“You have to reach people where they are. Our public information materials and our website, all that reaches a lot of Angelenos, but clearly not everyone," said Nancy Sutley, chief sustainability officer for the DWP, whose website features just English and Spanish.

Sutley said the program began about four years ago, initiated with federal funds. It's proven a success, she says, so the department has kept funding it; about $1.2 million dollars have been dedicated this year. The water-conservation message has become more of a priority since last year, Sutley said, with more groups brought on to focus on anti-drought efforts.

This kind of outreach means tapping resources like English-speaking kids – what one Latino community group is doing as it does its outreach in local schools. Some groups are focusing their efforts on youth. Others have translated fliers; one group is mailing information to Armenian and Russian-speaking households.

And when it works, the grantees take advantage of cultural cues, like the Little Tokyo group is doing in community workshops. Kanai's group has been part of the effort for a few months, reaching out via community workshops to first-generation Japanese speakers, to younger generations via social media, and to Little Tokyo business owners.

"Mottainai refers to physical waste, but also to wasteful actions," she explained, "so we try to encourage people to conserve."