Rich People Are Trucking Their Own Water Into Drought-Ridden California

Although 81 percent of the state is experiencing an "extreme drought," for many parts of California there is no apparent water shortage. Visit the highest-income neighborhoods and you'll see lush lawns and sparkling fountains defiantly sucking our lifeblood from the Earth. Apparently, as reporter Ann Louise Bardach found in writing for Politico, the rich will do whatever it takes to keep themselves moist.

To find out how celebs manage to remain so hydrated, Bardach visited Montecito, a tiny, tony city just southeast of Santa Barbara. Montecito is famous for many reasons, including having some of the highest real estate values in the country. That, paired with its proximity to L.A., makes it a haven for celebrities, who have clustered their estates along the idyllic coast.

But the most famous Montecito resident of all is Oprah. Ms. Winfrey owns at least two homes here, and last year her water bill almost topped $125,000. This year, it's about half of that, thanks to the dramatic measures she's taken to curb her use of the city water supply. But that doesn't means she's cutting back on water consumption. Noooo. She and many other celebs are now having their water imported. As Bardach reported:

These days, tankers can be seen barreling down Montecito's narrow country roads day and night, ferrying up to 5,000 gallons of H20 to some of the world's richest and thirstiest folks...

...Bob Hazard, a retired hotel CEO who writes a news column for the Montecito Journal, says he would not be surprised if some of the town's wealthiest are "paying as much as $15,000 a month for trucked-in water."

In response to the drought, and perhaps because so many residents are shipping their H2O from god knows where, Montecito was able to cut its water usage by 48 percent by laying down some pretty strict conservation efforts, like prohibiting homeowners from refilling pools or watering their polo fields.

This includes hefty fines for water wasters, although it's not clear if that's actually deterring anyone from changing their behavior. According to Bardach's report:

In May, 837 defiant—or careless—residents coughed up $532,000 in penalties, or a collective overage of about 13 million gallons of town water. The beachfront Biltmore Four Seasons was whacked with a penalty of $48,000 for using about one million gallons over its allotment in April, while a nearby private home sucked up a $30,000 fine for the month for guzzling an extra 750,000 gallons. The district receives about 30 appeals a week. Those who do not pay their bills receive shut off notices— and about 400 were sent out in the last year. The Montecito Water District, which is particularly discreet about its patrons, admits it will rake in close to $4 million in fines this year.

I see the same thing happening here in L.A. The city is under similar water restrictions as Montecito, and you can report anyone for breaking the rules. Yet as you drive west through the neighborhoods of Beverly Hills, Bel-Air, and Brentwood, the lawns miraculously grow greener. I actually tried in vain the other day to find at least one lawn which had been sacrificed for the greater good and could not. If you see one, please send me a photo.

With the vast acres of property that all these higher-income homes occupy, these estates could collectively have the greatest impact on water conservation. And wouldn't a celebrity's parched yellow lawn, captured by the paparazzi, be a great way to get other homeowners to jump on the bandwagon? That's not likely to happen. As in Montecito, they'll probably just keep on truckin'. Most of the people in these neighborhoods are simply too rich to care. [Politico]

Top photo Richard Vogel/AP