Water agencies across the state won’t tell us who’s guzzling the most water, even when some people are using millions of gallons a year in the middle of the historic drought.
The Sacramento Bee says it’s time for that to stop. In an editorial titled “California’s water hogs need a little sunshine,” the newspaper last week called on legislators to end an exemption in the state’s public records law that allows water agencies to shield the names of its biggest residential users.
The editorial came in response to a Reveal investigation showing that at least 365 households in the state used at least 1 million gallons of water in a year. The largest known water guzzler used 11.8 million gallons – enough for 90 families.
As previous Reveal reporting showed, Palo Alto city officials advocated for creating the exemption in 1997 in order to protect the privacy of tech executives. The Bee says the law raises basic questions of fairness:
Privacy is an important right. But there should be no exemption to the Public Records Act because a person might be embarrassed. If attention shames extreme water wasters in curtailing use, the public would benefit. The alternative is that the rest of us get the message that we aren’t in this together, after all.
The city of Sacramento not only refused to release the names of its biggest water users, but it also wouldn’t provide our reporters with basic data unless we paid $557 for programming.
The Bee penned another editorial this week demanding that the city release the data and the names:
State law allows local agencies to disclose water wasters’ names if it’s in the public interest; Sacramento should get with the program. Surely our interest in ensuring that the burden of this statewide emergency isn’t borne just by the lower and middle classes is obvious by now.