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California's 1-Percenters Are Flush With Water as Rest of the State Remains Parched

Celebrities and moguls aren't doing without while the region suffers from a disastrous drought.

Photo Credit: eteimaging/Shutterstock


While most of California worries, cuts back and braces for the worst of this epic drought, the Golden State's 1-percenters are staying flush with water. While some are obeying public water restrictions and having it shipped in by the truckload to their mansions in the tony exurbs of Santa Barbara County, others are just breaking the rules and paying hefty fines for not obeying local water restrictions.

Writer Ann Louise Bardach reported for Politico Magazine that tanker trucks filled with water make routine deliveries to the grand manors of the rich and famous, carting up to 5,000 gallons of water to the region's wealthiest residents. She also reports that Oprah Winfrey, one of Montecito's richest residents, gets water deliveries on a regular basis to keep things flowing at her 40-acre estate. Oprah, whose water bill from the Montecito Water District was almost $125,000 last year, according to Bardach, has cut her municipal water use in half this year, but she still needs massive deliveries of H2O to make it work.

Still, not all Montecito residents are relying on water shipments to make up the difference. They are just ignoring the restrictions.

More than 800 consumers in the water district have already been hit with penalties totaling more than $500,000 altogether, which means they wasted some 13 million gallons of public water, according to Bardach. One homeowner was reportedly hit with a $30,000 fine. And it's not only homeowners who are pirating the trickle of water the area gets from its aquifer; the Biltmore Four Seasons Hotel was hit with a hefty fine of nearly $50,000. There will be about $4 million in fines levied to Montecito Water District users this year, Bardach reports.

Meanwhile, California's drought has taken a significant turn for the worse. The U.S. Drought Monitor, a government-funded weekly map of drought conditions, reports that 98% of the state is experiencing a severe to exceptional drought, with 58% suffering from the harshest of drought conditions. All the state has been suffering from drought conditions since May, the first time in 15 years.

In July, California imposed statewide water-use regulations for the first time. State regulators approved stringent measures limiting outdoor water, including $500 fines for using an outdoor hose without a shut-off nozzle.

Montecito, a hamlet of some 9,000 residents, is one of the wealthiest enclaves in the U.S. Besides Oprah, the oceanfront community is home to Jeff Bridges, Drew Barrymore, Ellen DeGeneres, George Lucas, and Google executive chairperson Eric Schimidt among other notable celebrities and moguls. It has been under exceptional drought conditions for some time now, but it appears the community was not quite prepared for just how bad this drought would be. Bardach paints a picture of a water district desperate to appease its affluent clientele: 

"Last November, Tom Mosby, general manager of the Montecito Water District, warned that without drastic and immediate conservation—a 30 percent use reduction by all—the town would be plum out of water.

And then things got worse. In January, there was no rain. In February, Mosby announced that Montecito would begin rationing water. Part of the moratorium: a stop to the building of new homes—and heavens!— no new swimming pools. Residents with existing pools or spas were forbidden to empty and refill them with town water.

For the most part, residents have embraced the restrictions, allowing Montecito to cut its water usage by 48% and leaving vast aprons of yellowed lawns as evidence. A second five-acre property owned by Oprah—across the street from her estate—has gone to seed. Though a former water hog, Oprah is no longer. 'She is the poster child for us,' gushed Mosby in an interview. 'She’s doing her part.'"

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