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The New Biggest Residential Water User in California Used 13.8 Million Gallons in a Year

An investigation released last month revealed that a single residential user in Bel Air sucked down 11.8 million gallons of water over a year ending in April, and Los Angeles City Councilmembers and laypeople alike were outraged. Vigilantes banded together to search the streets of Bel Air, hoping to ferret out the water hog. Hope all those folks still have a little indignation left, because a household in San Diego County's Rancho Santa Fe way out-watered Bel Air, using a mindboggling 13.8 million gallons in a year ending this past September, according to the LA Times.

It's hard to even conceive of that much water—13.8 million gallons could "supply more than 110 typical single-family homes or fill 21 Olympic-size swimming pools." As much as that is, all that water is actually less than the top user in Rancho Santa Fe had consumed in the 12-month period ending on June 30, 2014: an astounding 31.7 million gallons, says the San Diego Union Tribune, which performed the survey of San Diego County districts that uncovered this water bombshell.

Rancho Santa Fe's water extravagance is well-known, and for that reason, the Santa Fe Irrigation District—which also brings water to nearby Fairbanks Ranch and Solana Beach—was told they had to cut back from their 2013 use by 36 percent. (A 2014 report had them soaking up an average of 584 gallons per person per day as of September 2014.) The good news is that the district's beating its manadatory restriction target by almost 4 percent at this point; the bad news is that still translates to an average per capita use of around 357 gallons a day. A day! The state average is 97 gallons.

But the thirsty folks of Rancho Santa Fe are not at fault, they claim. Their lifestyle is just more water intense, and there's no way to change a lifestyle: it's a solid, fixed thing. A spokesperson for the Santa Fe Irrigation District explained that "residential properties in Rancho Santa Fe are larger than many other jurisdictions, and often include orchards and groves of citrus trees," so obviously, they're going to use more water. She added that, just because per capita numbers are high, doesn't mean that Rancho Santa Feans are squandering water. "People have large properties here that require more water, so just because we're high users per capita doesn't mean we're wasteful."

Though a sample of residents definitely sounded wasteful late last year, when they explained their remarkable water use with everything from "If you have a $10 million home, you want to invest in your landscape" to "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."

Maybe it all depends on what constitutes "waste," then. A water policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Santa Monica told the Union-Tribune, "This is drinking water, this is a precious resource that, if it were a subdivision, would be used for cooking, cleaning and bathing, but instead is likely being used to maintain outdoor landscapes." Actually, when it's framed like that, yeah, it sounds pretty wasteful.
· Rancho Santa Fe water hog puts Bel-Air's to shame [LAT]
· California has a new top water hog [SD U-T]
· Bel Air Household Used 11.8 Million Gallons of Water Last Year [Curbed LA]
· 8 Excuses From the People Using the Most Water in California [Curbed LA]