Rich people love water. They use that stuff like it's some kind of diamond-kale skin cream that's going to make them live forever, statistically. And even though California is in a historically dire drought so bad that the governor has issued mandatory water cutbacks, and even though a normal person can be fined hundreds of dollars for watering their lawn on the wrong day, there is no limit on how much water a single household can use—a person can pour out "as much water as they can pay for," according to an LADWP official cited in Reveal's new study of the state's biggest residential water users. And so there is a house in Bel Air that used 11.8 million gallons of water in the year ending in April, or enough for about 90 normal households, more than any other property in the state.
Utility data used to be public record in California, but in the late nineties, the legislature weakened the law, with the encouragement of rich Palo Alto ("citing the privacy concerns of Silicon Valley executives"), so that public utility companies no longer had to release the names and usage statistics of its customers, although they're allowed to if they believe the information is in the public interest. (Reveal had a tough time getting data and it's far from complete—San Francisco and San Diego are represented, but Silicon Valley and Sacramento aren't—so these are the biggest "known" users we're talking about.)
The LADWP doesn't think it's in the public interest to reveal any information on the household using 11.8 million gallons of water a year—although they do share names and addresses of people caught with violations like broken sprinklers—and they're not going to do anything about that kind of out-of-control water use either.
Or of the out-of-control water use of all the other top known users in California, most of whom are in Los Angeles. In California last year, there were 365 "mega-users"—households that used more than 1 million gallons of water, or enough for about eight families. 32 of those households were in Beverly Hills; 20 were in Bel Air (including the 11.8 millions); 14 were in Brentwood. Mega-users around Los Angeles used an average of 4.2 million gallons each per year, but California's top 10 starts from about 6.8 million in Brentwood and reaches up and up through Westwood and Beverly Hills to top out in Bel Air (those four neighborhoods make up the entire list).
Two California water agencies—one in Oakland, one in the Coachella Valley—have recently started penalizing excessive water users, but the LADWP is not interested. "There's no ordinance on the books in Los Angeles to go after an individual customer strictly for their use," an official told Reveal, adding in a follow-up that "concerns about mega-users were overblown," since they only use a tiny fraction of the city total.
· The Wet Prince of Bel Air: Who is California's biggest water guzzler? [Reveal]
· Study: Rich LA Neighborhoods Are Using More Water Than Everyone Else [Curbed LA]
· Rich SoCal Water-Wasters Throwing Big Baby Tantrum About Drought Cutbacks [Curbed LA]