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8 Excuses From the People Using the Most Water in California

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Don't let the rain fool you: it is very droughty out there. California is in a historically-proportioned drought and most people are cutting back on their water usage, but not rich people, who have a sentimental affinity for their lemon groves and hundred-acre yards. "Five of the top six per-capita water users were affluent communities" in September, reports the New York Times. (Beverly Hills had some of the highest per capita water use in LA County in the latest report. Update: Those numbers have been revised, making Bev Hills only about the eleventh biggest user in the area.) The worst water waster in all of California is the Santa Fe Irrigation District (covering Rancho Santa Fe, Fairbanks Ranch, and Solana Beach), where residents managed to use five times the amount of water as the average coastal Californian in September—584 gallons each. Per day. While water use was down 10.3 percent statewide in September, the SFID reduced its use by just 1.5 percent. What's their excuse? They have a few:

Michael J. Bardin, general manager of the Santa Fe Irrigation District, who's doing his best to cut water usage in his district: "If you have a $10 million home, you want to invest in your landscape."

Candace Humber, the chairwoman of the design committee for a Rancho Santa Fe homeowners association: "I have friends who are replacing their lawns with more drought-tolerant plants."

Humber again: "Ms. Humber asked a reporter not to call this area 'affluent,' even though the median household income is above $170,000 a year. 'It makes it sound like we don't care,' she said."

Laura de Seroux, 14-year resident of Rancho Santa Fe: "It's an affluent community … People have gardeners, and they just don't pay attention. They don't clean their own houses. That's the way it is here."

A UCLA study released last year: "not only did wealthier areas of Los Angeles County use more water, but they also cut back less during droughts, because residents were less sensitive to fines and rising water bills."

Martin J. Wygod, "a prominent racehorse breeder" who used more water than the local golf course on his massive property last year, but has cut back in 2014, on why he's thinking of removing his hundreds of lemon trees: "They've always been there. But you lose money with lemon groves. And there's not a shortage of lemons in this country."

Bibba Winn, an 18-year resident of Rancho Santa Fe, on replacing lemon trees with oak, which don't need watering: "It would cost a bloody fortune to take out a whole citrus grove … And oak trees? I can't even conceive of planting that many. I'm not quite ready for the Black Forest."

Resident Robert Schaefer, who has made his property more drought-tolerant but refuses to give up his 100 lemon trees: "We like that rural look around here … Rancho Santa Fe was first started as an agricultural community. There are lots of big homes with lemon groves. We enjoy it."
· Where Grass Is Greener, a Push to Share Drought's Burden [NYT]
· Here's How Much Water is Being Used Per Person in Every Part of LA Every Day [Curbed LA]