With California facing one of its most severe droughts in memory, and the state gearing up for the first mandatory water restrictions in history, much attention is being paid to California’s farmers who aren’t being asked to cut back as much as the rest of the state’s citizens.
At the opposite end of the economic scale, however, little attention is being paid to the Golden State’s other water-guzzling citizens: the rich folks who live in wealthy enclaves like Beverly Hills, Malibu, and other desirable zip codes.
According to the LA Times, Beverly Hills and other affluent cities use far more water per capita than less-wealthy communities, prompting concerns that threats of fines for not observing mandatory restrictions may have little effect on those who can easily pay them without missing a beat.
In 2011, when lower income communities like Santa Ana in Orange County used approximately 38 gallons a day per capita, residents in wealthier areas like Palos Verdes Estates and Newport Beach were using more than 150 gallons, or almost four times the amount per day.
According to George Murdoch, general manager of utilities in Newport Beach, “Some people – believe it or not – don’t know we are in a drought. We have people that own a home here but aren’t around a lot, so they could miss a leak.”
Stephanie Pincetl, who worked on a UCLA water-use study, has another theory: wealthy Californians are “lacking a sense that we are all in this together.”
“The problem lies, in part, in the social isolation of the rich, the moral isolation of the rich,” Pincetl said.
Beverly Hills officials explain that they have focused on water saving education so far, instituting an emergency water conservation plan that calls for voluntary limits on use of fountains that don’t use recycled water, eliminating pavement washing, and cutting back on lawn watering by 10 percent.
But officials are concerned that the governor’s call to reduce water consumption by 25 percent may fall on the deaf ears of people unaccustomed to having to listen to things they don’t want to hear.
An entertainment industry worker who identified himself only as Eric said he has cut back on water usage, but admits he has a fountain, a jacuzzi, and lemon and orange trees to consider.
“This is America. You gotta live it up a little bit, right?” he said.
City officials in Newport Beach and Beverly Hills, have seen a steady drop in water use over the last few months, but remain concerned how much people in their upscale communities will cut back despite the threat of fines.
“In this part of town, everyone is just too important to see outside themselves,” explained Kay Dangaard, a longtime Beverly Hills resident. “Where are these people going to go with all their money when the water is gone?”