Environment

The hunt to find – and fine – the Wet Prince of Bel Air

A gardener mows a lawn in Pasadena, Calif. A Los Angeles city councilman is asking the Department of Water and Power to consider “imposing severe financial penalties” and even shutting off water service for the largest guzzlers. Credit: Nick Ut/Associated Press

Alarmed by a Reveal investigation, four Los Angeles city councilmen are demanding a crackdown on residents who are using millions of gallons of water per year during California’s crippling drought.

In a motion set for hearing Wednesday, Councilman Paul Koretz asks the city’s Department of Water and Power to consider “imposing severe financial penalties” and even shutting off water service for the largest guzzlers.

Councilmen Mitch O’Farrell, David Ryu and Herb Wesson Jr. joined the motion. Koretz contends that using millions of gallons of water during the drought is “a slap in the face to neighbors who have heroically complied with austere water use measures” during the drought.

In an Oct. 1 story, Reveal reported that the 10 biggest known residential water customers in the state live in Bel Air, Beverly Hills and other exclusive neighborhoods in the city’s mansion-studded Westside neighborhood.

In the 12 months ending April 1, one Bel Air customer pumped 11.8 million gallons of water, Reveal reported. That’s enough for 90 families.

That customer is the biggest known residential water user in California. Nineteen other residents of Bel Air, an enclave of wealth and celebrity, used more than 2.8 million gallons in a year, public records show.

The Department of Water and Power declined to identify any of the mega-users, citing confidentiality concerns.

Reveal’s story has provoked anger among Angelenos who have struggled to conserve water during the drought, now entering its fifth year.

Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez has drummed up public outrage, spinning two columns out of Reveal’s report and shooting a video about his search for the biggest user in Bel Air. On Sunday, he described the efforts of a Westside “drought posse,” volunteers who were “scouring satellite maps, following neighborhood gutter flows” and even using a drone in an effort to identify Bel Air’s mega-user. So far, they haven’t found him.

The city has imposed fines on some residents for such drought-related offenses as watering their lawns on the wrong day of the week or letting runoff cascade into the street. But the Department of Water and Power says there is no city law against using enormous quantities of water, as long as the customer pays for it.

The councilmen want to give the water agency 30 days to come up with a plan.

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