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Drought-Stricken Los Angeles Might Start Outing Its Biggest Water Users

If you thought “drought shaming” was bad before—wait until it’s official.

Image via Flickr user Kevin Cortopassi

California is in the midst of a hundred-year drought, and government agencies have released official public service announcements with a clear message: Stop using so much water!

Until now, those warnings have had few teeth. Los Angeles’ Department of Water and Power (DWP) has refused to reveal the names of those who consume more than their fair share of water or levy substantial fines against them. That even goes for the anonymous Angeleno who ProPublica calls the “Wet Prince of Bel Air,” a resident of the exclusive neighborhood who used 11.8 million gallons of water in one year—“enough for 90 households.”

The situation may be about to change: The Los Angeles Times reports that the DWP is considering changing its water ordinance to allow the “naming and shaming” of the wet prince and his ilk. The change would see L.A. release the names of those who use excessive water and, in the words of City Councilman Pete Koretz, impose “substantial” fines on them.

Suspiciously green.

The new tactic would make use of a loophole in California’s Public Records Act, which DWP has thus far used to argue that it is not legally obligated to release the names of customers with staggering water bills. A subsection of the law, however, says utilities must disclose when customers use “utility services in a manner inconsistent with local utility usage policies."

“Privacy is always a concern, but sunshine is a great disinfectant,” Tracy Quinn, a water expert with the National Resources Defense Council, told the L.A. Times as she advocated for the disclosure. “Public shaming, or highlighting some of this egregious water use in times of drought, has been an effective tool to lower usage.”

In September, California’s East Bay Municipal Utility District released the names of 2,000 customers who had violated that agency’s water ordinance. Many named were furious, but former Warriors basketball player Adonal Foyle said he understood why the utility made the choice that it did.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

“I can understand it,” [Foyle] said at his tasteful, island-flavored home overlooking the hills of Orinda, as he also blamed his daily consumption of 2,979 gallons on leaky pipes. “Nobody wants to be on a list, but I think being on it can motivate people. We all have to do our part.”

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