Suspicion, envy, lawbreaking, informers, special police. No, not the plot to an overwrought US crime show, but the burgeoning tensions in suburban Australia over our neighbours’ surprisingly healthy gardens.

Some examples. Over Christmas, I waved to a kindly old Lebanese neighbour who was watering her garden. Before saying hello she pointed guiltily to her hose and said, “It’s from the washing machine.”

One Crikey reader told us they had a pool installed a few months ago (a plan that’s been on the drawing board for over a year) that remains empty. They recently had a fence erected around their shameful pond in an attempt to quell the lectures from neighbours about the indulgence of filling a pool in the middle of stage three restrictions.

Given how healthy his garden looks, I suspect the signs were an explanation to neighbours. Or a reaction to accusations of water misuse. Or had he been stung by the Water Police?

Currently in Melbourne, there are 140 Water Patrol Officers (basically the meter readers and burst and leak guys with an expanded job description) enforcing Melbourne’s stage three restrictions. They have the power to warn people, cut off their water supply, and issues fines ($429). They also act on tips from people about their water-wasting neighbours. Sydney has had water rangers for over three years, but have only managed to capture one in 12 wrongdoers in that time, a lack of success the Brisbane City Council water chairman John Campbell can empathise with.

So far, we haven’t seen anything that approaches a breakdown of law and order over water, but there’s a mild form of water militancy creeping into our urban neighbourhoods. Given the generally serious way people are approaching it, it’s not impossible to imagine people falling out (or worse) over water use.

Have the water restrictions lead to any tension in your street? Have any of your neighbours felt compelled to explain publicly the health of their garden? Have you been pinged by the water police? Let Crikey know at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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