California’s East Bay Municipal Utility District has released a list customers fined for overusing water, sparking a new round of celebrity drought shaming.
The list includes customers who during the most recent 60-day billing cycle used more than roughly 1,000 gallons of water per day. Those appealing the fine — $2 per 748 gallons used — were excluded from the list. The average household uses between 300 and 400 gallons a day.
The leading user was St. Moritz Dorf LLC, a private company that owns a residence in Alamo. The property used an average of more than 11,000 gallons of water per day, according to the utility. Mark Mastrov, founder of 24 Hour Fitness, reportedly used more than 10,000 gallons a day. Other business moguls, entrepreneurs, and entertainment and sports figures who live or maintain properties in its 331-square-mile service area (including the cities of Oakland and Berkeley) are on the list of 1,802 customers, about 1 percent of the 1.3 million EBMUD customers.
Other celebrities fined included Oakland Giants catcher Buster Posey; Roy Jacuzzi, whose family invented the water jet pump technology; and Mötley Crüe lead singer Vince Neil. Olympic figure skater and entrepreneur Kristi Yamaguchi and civil rights lawyer John L. Burris of Oakland also were on the list.
The “drought shaming” social media phenomenon caught on across North America in 2015 as a vigilante conservation effort to publicly prod neighbors into water conservation. Those who see someone wasting water post photos and narrative on social media to call out water-hogging people, businesses, and even municipalities.
In April 2015, California Gov. Jerry Brown called for a 25 percent reduction in water use in the state. After that, photographer John Chapple took aerial photos of the Los Angeles-area celebrity estates showing lush, green lawns, and filled pools and fountains, despite the drought. Celebrities soon were targeted in the campaign.
Like EBMUD, some utilities are releasing records of the water use of both residential and commercial customers. The Southern Nevada Water Authority, for example, listed Sheldon Adelson, noted casino executive and investor, and boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. among its largest water users. Topping the 2013 list — the most recent available — were Prince Jefri Bolkiah, brother of the Sultan of Brunei, who has a 16-acre compound in the area, and Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, “whose 33-bedroom mansion sucked nearly 14 million gallons of water a year.” Numerous casino properties topped the list of commercial users.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, in contrast, has consistently refused to release the names of its top residential water users, citing changes made to the California Public Records Act that say the release of customer utility use data is at each agency’s discretion. Lawmakers and municipal groups were among those who argued in 1997 that the release of public utility customer information posed a safety risk. In arguing to change the California Public Records Act in 1997, the city of Palo Alto said sensitive information about high-profile Silicon Valley executives was a privacy concern. The most frequent example provided of this type of security concern is the 1989 murder of actress Rebecca Schaeffer, shot by a stalker after he got her home address through public motor vehicle records.
Celebrities recently targeted by the #droughtshaming hashtag include actor Tom Selleck, several of the Kardashians, Jessica Simpson, and Jennifer Lopez. Other entities called out include the cities of Santa Monica and Burbank, Los Angeles City and Seattle parks, as well as Chik-Fil-A and 99 Ranch Market.
When there are not fines in place, public ridicule seems to be working. After Chapple’s photos were published, for example, Barbra Streisand promised to cut her water use in half.
Reducing Water Use
Tracy Quinn, a water efficiency expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the Los Angeles Times:
Privacy is always a concern, but sunshine is a great disinfectant. Public shaming, or highlighting some of this egregious water use in times of drought, has been an effective tool to lower usage.
Indeed, noted repeat offenders on the EBMUD list have reduced their consumption. George Kirkland, retired Chevron executive, reduced his use by roughly 50 percent. Oakland A’s executive Billy Beane’s use was down from roughly 6,000 gallons a day to 3,500 gallons a day. Several irrigation leaks plus a “significant” pool leak were blamed for the overuse. The baseball franchise noted:
The water usage at Billy Beane’s home was reduced by nearly 50 percent during the most recent billing cycle. […] More than half of the current bill reflects the previous usage rate, and does not show the immediate and continued action taken at the home, including the complete shutdown of the property’s irrigation system.
EBMUD has collected about $400,000 in fines since September 2015.