Last month, the Center for Investigative Reporting named a single property owner in Los Angeles as the top water guzzler in California: This person used an astonishing 11.8 million gallons in one year. This person was also given the best nickname ever: “The Wet Prince of Bel Air.”
But who was the Wet Prince? No one knew. Due to some privacy laws, many water boards in the state can’t give away information about specific customers. The Center for Investigative Reporting likely got the the data as a list, with no other details, except for the fact that this property was in Bel Air, zip code 90077.
Bel Air is not a very big place. How hard could it be to find 11.8 million gallons of water?
Bel Air map from Zillow, with houses listed for sale
It turns out that over the last month, many Angelenos have been tirelessly working to out the Wet Prince.
A story in The Guardian talked to longtime Bel Air residents like Dean Gamburd, who are banding together and swearing vengeance upon the world’s worst water hog:
Today Gamburd, a former firearms consultant in his 60s, is angry. Very angry. “It’s criminal,” he says, sitting at a table outside Starbucks. “There’s no other word to use.”
Heads up, Moist King, you probably don’t want to mess with a firearms consultant!
At the Los Angeles Times, columnist Steve Lopez joined a “drought posse” of local homeowners who have made it their mission to find their overly damp neighbor, whom they estimated was using about 32,000 gallons a day—about the size of a large backyard pool and enough water to flush a toilet 20,000 times daily:
Friday morning, I went out on patrol with Bel-Air Beverly Crest Neighborhood Council member Maureen Levinson, doing a little surveillance on a Tuscan-style villa with a hillside vineyard. Levinson said there may be a few super wealthy residents who don’t give a hoot about conservation, but they are giving a bad name to Bel-Air residents who do.
Levinson even flew a drone to snap aerial photos as evidence until she realized it might not be the best method of data collection:
Levinson has used a camera-equipped drone to monitor some of the more obscene developments, but she said she parked it in August to research legal issues around the use of such aircraft.
But you might not need a drone to guess who the Wet Prince might be. One of the largest homes in the country was under construction in Bel Air in 2014. When it was nearing completion, the 60,000 square-foot mansion named Chateau des Fleurs was the largest single-family house in LA.
It’s totally feasible that a construction site for one of the largest homes in the state could be one of the biggest water users in the state. It’s also very likely that water use wouldn’t be monitored as carefully on a construction site, so a hose could be accidentally left on overnight... for a year, for example. Plus, you know, they had to fill the pools and fountains when they were done.
But wait! During 2014 there was an even larger mansion under construction in Bel Air. Aiming to be bigger than Chateau des Fleurs, bigger than the biggest (unfinished) home in the US, a Florida mansion named Versailles, this 100,000 square-foot spec house will reportedly have a $500 million price tag. It also will have four pools.
And guess what? During 2014, in the waning days of LA’s blistering summer, construction crews leveled a hilltop to begin construction on the home, as one neighbor told the New York Times:
They took 50- or 60,000 cubic yards of dirt out of the place,” said Fred Rosen, a neighbor, glowering at the site from behind the wheel of his Cadillac Escalade on a sunny October afternoon.
According to Bloomberg, this guess was just about right: The plans called for “removal of almost 40,000 cubic yards of earth, the equivalent of an American football field covered by 20 feet of dirt.”
You know what happens when you’re moving dirt around like that? It turns to dust and blows everywhere. You have to spray it down with a lot of water so it stays put. In bone-dry weather conditions like LA experiences most of the summer and into the fall, you’d need a lot of water.
Maybe even 32,000 gallons per day.
Follow the author at @awalkerinLA