[guest post by Dana]
As Californians are now in the third year of a drought, now a Stage 4, economizing water has become a way of life for many.
But all things being relative, while some in hard hit towns like the immensely wealthy enclave of Montecito may appear to have made water-saving measures a new habit as evidenced in cutting water usage almost 50%, they are still using what anyone would consider copious amounts of water – even if they have to pay to truck it in:
Many mornings, just before 7 a.m., a large tanker truck pulls up to the grand gates of Oprah Winfrey’s 40-acre estate in Montecito, California. Inside is neither merchandise nor produce – just water.
A year ago, Oprah’s annual bill from the Montecito Water District was just shy of $125,000. This year, it is less than half. Like many in this wealthy enclave, Oprah has cut back on her consumption of district water. That said, her property has its own wells and a small lake and, according to neighbors, there are the trucks.
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.
Unfortunately, gorgeous Montecito has the misfortune of being located where there is less available water than any other part of the central coast as a nearby aquifer only reaches a small portion of the community. And because of the severity of drought in the community, heavy fines are levied for those who overuse. And some residents appear more than willing to pay:
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.
But for those who understand that money talks, water is still plentiful.
Does it really matter if the wealthy pay for water to be brought in? Truck drivers make a living off the demand and the lush rolling lawns remain emerald green. Win-win. Well, it just might matter. The water they are trucking in doesn’t come from an endless source. It comes from the nearby town of Carpenteria. Charles Hamilton, general manager of the Carpinteria Water District, worries:
Carpinteria, one of the country’s top producers of avocados and flowers, is an agricultural wonderland for good reason. The town sits on an immense aquifer that Hamilton describes as a “geological treasure,” amply providing for its residents and thousands of acres of agriculture.
Every well in Carpinteria, however, draws upon its aquifer — like so many straws in a glass. If water continues to be siphoned from these wells to cash in on Montecito’s plight — and if the winter rains do not come — Hamilton frets that even its great aquifer will be threatened.
Meanwhile, 190 miles away from Montecito, the small rural town of Porterville has run out of water. The wells are dry.
“We received direction early last week from county administration to come out and conduct an emergency operation. We distributed 15,552 gallons of drinking water to the community,” said Andrew Lockman, manager of Tulare County Office of Emergency Services. “At this time, it is all funded under the county’s general fund.”
Many residents of East Porterville are now relying on a 5,000 gallon tank of non-potable water. The tank is provided by Tulare County and is located in front of Tulare County Fire Department Station 20.
Perhaps the rich and famous of Montecito might send word to turn those water trucks northeast.
You can also read here about the latest lawsuit in California between farmers versus Indian tribes, environmentalists and fishermen over the federal release of water to aid