The PJ Tatler

California Wealthy: Water Conservation Is for the Little People

California is going through a severe drought that has been exacerbated because of poor planning by government and massive interference by environmentalists. (Victor Davis Hanson explains it all.)

It’s gotten so bad that California Governor Jerry Brown has imposed mandatory conservation measures — at least for homeowners and some businesses. Others, like California’s farmers and oil companies, have largely been spared the 25% cut in water usage.

For the state’s wealthy, their attitude seems to be “catch me if you can.” The water restrictions depend a lot on voluntary compliance. So it shouldn’t surprise us that this weekend in upscale areas  like Beverly Hills, La Canada Flintridge, Newport Beach, Malibu and Palos Verdes, the sprinklers were going full blast, fountains were burbling, and hoses were watering all those beautiful gardens.

From the Los Angeles Times: 

Residents in communities such as La Canada Flintridge, Newport Beach, Malibu and Palos Verdes all used more than 150 gallons of water per capita per day in January. By contrast, Santa Ana used just 38 gallons and communities in Southeast L.A. County used less than 45.

Water usage in Los Angeles was 70 gallons per capita. But within the city, a recent UCLA study examining a decade of Department of Water and Power data showed that on average, wealthier neighborhoods consume three times more water than less-affluent ones.

With Gov. Jerry Brown’s order requiring a 25% cut in water consumption, upscale communities are scrambling to develop stricter laws that will work where years of voluntary standards have not. Many believe it’s going to take a change in culture as well as city rules to hit the goal.

“Some people — believe it or not — don’t know we are in a drought,” said George Murdoch, general manager of utilities in Newport Beach, which is beginning to fine chronic water wasters. “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 the UCLA water-use study, said 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.

Until now, Beverly Hills officials said they have focused on educating, rather than penalizing water wasters. The city is in the second stage of its emergency water conservation plan, which calls for voluntary limits on use of fountains that do not use recycled water, pavement washing and lawn watering to reduce water consumption by 10%.

But on Friday, fountains, sprinklers and hoses seemed to flow freely throughout the city.

City officials will introduce a stricter plan that they say will achieve the governor’s 25% reduction target at a council meeting this month. There is some debate as to how much residents can change.

Kay Dangaard, a longtime Beverly Hills resident who recently moved to a condo just outside the city, said she’s seen much apathy about the drought.

“In this part of town, everyone is just too important to see outside themselves,” she said as she shopped at the Beverly Hills Whole Foods Market. “Where are these people going to go with all their money when the water is gone?”

The answer to that last question is easy: wherever they damn well please.

As an object lesson, perhaps California should shut the water off in those zip codes for a day or two, giving the residents a chance to see what it would be like to live without water. We recently had that experience here in Streator, IL, when a boil order went out because of contamination.  No drinking, no washing, no bathing. Sue rushed to the store and bought the last 8 cases of water but it was still a pain in the neck to deal with. It made us both appreciate a little more what comes out of the tap every time you turn the handle.

Is the social isolation of the rich a problem associated with income inequality? The rich have always been socially isolated. It’s one of the perks of having money. You don’t have to hang around with Joe and Marge Public if you don’t want to. This has been true forever, so it’s hard to see how this is a recent problem that government should try to fix.

I don’t begrudge these people their money and wealth. I celebrate it. But if I lived in California, I would organize a brigade of water spies who would prowl these wealthy neighborhoods looking for obvious scofflaws and turn them in to the local authorities. If I have to cut my water consumption by 25%, by god, both the wealthiest and the poorest are going to cut it, too. And if there are those who actually believe they are above these restrictions, I would want the local and state government to know who they are.