Identities of the State’s Biggest Residential Water Users Are Trickling Out

Monday, October 19, 2015

The hunt for the “Wet Prince of Bel-Air,” a homeowner who uses 1,300 gallons of water per hour (11.8 million gallons a year) in a posh Los Angeles community, has been hampered by a law that shields the identity of water users from public view.

But the 1997 change to the California Public Records Act that makes that information off-limits for nosey citizens apparently doesn’t preclude the government from exposing identities when people are fined for exceeding new drought-imposed limits.

Last week, the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) identified the worst water scofflaws and Bay Area sports fans were crestfallen. It wasn’t surprising that the list was headed by a retired Chevron executive and a well-known venture capitalist/CEO.

But third on the list was Billy Beane, vice president of operations for the Oakland A’s and a guru of baseball analytics who was portrayed in the movie “Moneyball” by Brad Pitt. Beane’s Moneyball philosophy is that one must be innovative when having to make do with fewer resources. 

Fans who were hoping he would “say it ain’t so” might have been disappointed by his explanation.

“Multiple irrigation leaks and a significant pool leak were recently discovered and are in the process of being corrected,” Beane said, explaining how he used 5,996 gallons a day while the district and its 1.3 million customers were ordered to reduce use 31%. If he kept up that pace for a year, he would be subject to a fine—of $800, according to The Center for Investigative Reporting.

Beane used only half as much water as the district’s top user, former Chevron vice president George Kirkland. He reportedly has a vineyard on his 4-acre Danville estate and could be subject to an $1,800 fine. Kirkland used 12,578 gallons a day, about 50 times the average user. The Bay Area News Group reported that he said a lot of the water was wasted, because he had a vineyard leak.

In between Beane and Kirkland was Mark Pine, a former venture capitalist and CEO of online marketing website Ubokia. Pine used 8,090 gallons a day of water on his 7-acre site in Alamo, which probably made for lush surroundings when he hosted a fund-raiser for Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum in 2012.  

The water district released a list of the top 1,108 water users that identified them by name, address and amount of water used. District spokeswoman Abby Figueroa told the San Francisco Chronicle the list was still a work in progress, but will eventually include all households that use more than 1,000 gallons a day.

Figueroa said the district is not keen on drought shaming and future penalties could be a lot higher. It doesn’t appear that a lot of water districts can reveal their big users, because they don’t have a penalty system in place.

At the behest of an L.A. City Council inspired by the Wet Prince of Bel-Air, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) agreed last week, in the fourth year of the drought, that it would begin to study ways to rein in water use that could include fines.

LADWP water system manager Marty Adams told the Los Angeles Times that, while the district does not yet reveal individual user’s names, it does send letters to the 4,600 heaviest users asking them to be more prudent.

“Clearly not everyone is getting the message,” he said.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Billy Beane and Oil Exec Among East Bay’s Biggest Water Guzzlers (by Lance Williams and Katharine Mieszkowski, The Center for Investigative Reporting)

A’s Billy Beane Near Top of East Bay Water Hogs List (by Peter Fimrite and Steve Rubenstein, San Francisco Chronicle)

Billy Beane Among East Bay's Biggest Excess Water Users (by Denis Cuff, Bay Area News Group)

Bel-Air Water Hogs Spur Move to Impose Stiff Penalties on L.A. Guzzlers (by Hailey Branson-Potts, Los Angeles Times)

Water Unaccountability in the Age of Drought (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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