The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously today to crack down on the area’s biggest water users.
Councilman Paul Koretz led the push after a Reveal investigation found that the state’s largest known residential water user lived in his district. This Bel Air customer pumped 11.8 million gallons in a 12-month period, records show – enough for 90 families.
“I’m taking responsibility for the extravagant and embarrassing water use in my district,” he said.
The motion orders the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to report back to the council within 30 days on ways to rein in excessive use among its biggest customers. It requires the agency to explore imposing “severe financial penalties” or even shutting off the water.
At the meeting, Koretz cited our reporting, which found that 92 of the top 100 water guzzlers in the state are in Los Angeles, mostly in exclusive neighborhoods on the city’s west side. A top water official appeared to be puzzled by the mega-users in his midst.
“It is very difficult to explain how they can possibly be using that much water,” Marty Adams, senior assistant general manager of the water system, told the City Council. “We want to get inside the walls and check that out.”
Adams said the city has written to the top 1 percent of water users – a total of about 4,600 letters – as part of its ongoing conservation efforts during the drought, but he noted: “Clearly, not everyone is getting the message.” He pledged that the agency will make recommendations on how the city’s water conservation ordinance should be changed to address the problem.
The Reveal investigation has sparked a public outcry in Los Angeles. A volunteer “drought posse” has been trying to identify the mystery mega-user using satellite maps and even a drone. But so far, no luck. The water agency has declined to identify the big guzzlers, citing privacy concerns.
The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board has since called on the state Legislature to do away with a law that allows water agencies to withhold the names of its largest users.
At the City Council meeting, Koretz displayed a giant, gray trash can and two coffee cups to illustrate the contrast between the biggest guzzler in the state and the typical California home.
He suggested that homes using over a million gallons a year could see their rates go up 10 times. And those using 5 million gallons could get their water capped and shut off if they ignore a warning letter.
The water agency will report back to the council with its recommendations.
This story was edited by Andrew Donohue and copy edited by Sheela Kamath.