The State Water Resources Control Board’s recent ruling to let each district decide its own conservation limits is supposed to let those communities that saw lots of rain this spring relax and stop worrying about conserving water, while many of the communities in southern California must continue to go without. Except, not everyone went without water in the first place, and the new rule for cities to self-regulate has people worried that certain localities will more or less opt out. That’s because some people remember that while the land in Central Valley sunk into its dried up wells, and the poor in the San Joaquin Valley suffered empty taps and toilets that didn’t flush, some wealthy neighborhoods filled their pools a little higher and asked, What drought?
One popular offender was the “Wet Prince of Bel-Air,” an unnamed resident of the posh Los Angeles neighborhood. A study from University of California, Los Angeles, found the city’s wealthy regularly use three times as much water as the less-affluent, but the “Wet Prince” took this to an absurdity. This single homeowner consumed 11.8 million gallons of water in one year. That’s enough for 90 homes. Bel-Air is in the Los Angeles water district, so while the rest of the city tightened its taps, or even looked to Australia for water-cutting techniques, the Wet Prince seemed to have turned up every faucet. A posse of angered drought-minders patrolled Bel-Air, and the news media made a mad search to learn who this homeowner was. Newspapers demanded the water agencies release the offender’s name, as well as those of top water-wasters.
Nothing came of it, and the water supplier refused to reveal the homeowner’s identity. But the “Wet Prince” was not alone. Just north of San Diego, in the pastoral and faux-farm community of Rancho Santa Fe, Marty and Pamela Wygod, horse racers, owners of almost 100 acres, and an infinity pool, had pumped nearly 14 million gallons by the end of 2014. And that was a drastic reduction in their water use. In 2003, the WebMD Health Corporation chairman and his wife used 57 million gallons, and in 2013 they used 28 million gallons. From those highs, the Wygods had cut down their use during the drought, and said their 50 percent decrease from the past year was an effort to “set the best example in the state.”
At least the Wygods tried. In April 2014, when Governor Brown announced the statewide mandatory water cuts, Rancho Santa Fe’s water usage increased 9 percent. The New York Times visited the gated community in November 2014, and the reporter found an eden of healthy and perky putting greens. The Times wrote:
The lawns and horse pastures here offer a stark reminder that, although drought has blanketed the entire state, the burdens of the dry reservoirs have hardly been spread evenly.
Then last June, The Washington Post visited, and the strain of state-forced water cuts seemed to have angered the community. Steve Yuhas, a resident and conservative radio host, posted on Facebook that people “should not be forced to live on property with brown lawns, golf on brown courses or apologize for wanting their gardens to be beautiful. We pay significant property taxes based on where we live.” Then he told the Post in an interview, “And, no, we’re not all equal when it comes to water.”