In December 2010, my water bill was extremely high; I posted a blog about my dispute with the Coachella Valley Water District (“CVWD”). In the end, I paid the bill as I did not want to receive a black mark on my credit history. (The CVWD has no mechanism like the credit card companies in which the amount due will be held in abeyance while in dispute.)

Once again, I have a high water bill. But this time, I cannot blame the CVWD. No, it is my gardener’s fault. We are extensively remodeling the condo, and so the sprinkler system for the yard is no longer operational. Wanting to save my lemon and grapefruit trees and the shrubbery, I asked my gardener to water them by hand a few times a week. He agreed and is charging $100.00 per month to do so.

By way of background, the condo is in the Palm Springs area. In the summer, the temperature is usually over 100 ê_ F every day: thus, the greenery needs a lot of water to stay alive.

Evidently, my gardener, believing that the trees were not getting enough water, (or in his words, “… were not happy”), decided to leave a hose slightly turned on at the foot of one of the trees overnight. Purely, by happenstance, I was at the condo the next afternoon as I had a mediation in the area and decided to check on the construction progress. While there, I checked the water meter (now out of habit due to my previous go-rounds with CVWD). Lo and behold, I saw that since my last water bill, I had used about 61 CCF (CCF = one hundred cubic feet where 1 CCF = 748 gallons) or 45,628 gallons. Enough to fill a swimming pool! Noticing the little blue dial or flow meter spinning, I went back onto the property and heard the hose running. I turned it off.

I called my gardener who told me he had turned it on the night before because the trees were “not happy”. That is, the water had been flowing for close to 24 hours non-stop.

So… the issue is what I should do? How do I resolve my own dispute? The bill is about $150 more than it was in August 2012. (i.e., this same time last year.). What is fair? To the gardener? To me? And, in speaking of “fairness”, should I think of it in the legal sense (i.e., what would the “law” have to say on this topic and how would a judge/jury rule?) or in the equitable sense (how would the rules of equity determine this?) or in the ethical/moral/religious sense or in the cultural sense? My gardener is of a different ethnicity than I am and thus was raised, no doubt, with different cultural values and mores. While my female Caucasian sense of fairness may lead me to one conclusion, his different ethnicity and upbringing may lead him to another.

Should I request the gardener pay the entire $150 additional amount? Some of it? (And if so, how much?) Or, none of it? Should I simply not pay him the whole or a part of the $100 I owe him for the month? Complicating this is the fact that he has been my gardener for over 20 years. Do I jeopardize that relationship by asking him to pay some or all of it? Do I want to fire him over it? Does the relationship mean more to me than the money or vice versa?

While I am angry and upset over it, is it worth terminating the relationship and having to find a new gardener? Should I just let it go?

I think the first thing I will do is take my own advice and have one of those “difficult conversations” with him; not confrontational but a discussion and get his input and then make my decision. I always say that disputes often arise due to a lack of communication or miscommunication. So, the first thing I should do is talk to him about it, and using “integrative”
bargaining, determine how “we” can resolve this dispute so that it is a “win-win” for both of us.

Isn’t it is amazing how the simplest of disputes can get so darn complicated? (It’s all because of the relationship, isn’t it?)

…. Just something to think about.

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