Uncovering The Wealthy People Who Waste L.A.’s Water, With Satellites And Math

Amid California’s record-breaking recent drought, some mansion owners appeared completely oblivious. They kept running their lawn fountains and artificial waterfalls even as the city called for people to stop washing their cars. Journalists Lance Williams and Katharine Mieszkowski of Reveal found one homeowner had used 11.8 million gallons in a year–sufficient water for 90 households.

However, the city refused to actually name these homeowners, citing a lack of “public interest” (always an arguable concept). So, Lance Williams and Michael Corey, another journalist, decided to try and find out for themselves. Using satellite imagery, an algorithm for tracking drought and deforestation, and equations used in landscape planning, they’ve now named some likely culprits–mega-users they call “Bel Air’s wet princes and princesses.”

The rogue’s gallery includes Jerrold Perenchio, owner of the 42-room chateau used in the original The Beverly Hillbillies (estimated usage: 6.1 to 12.3 million gallons per year); Gary Winnick, an investment banker whose 64-room “Bellagio House” uses up to 9.3 million gallons, according to the analysis; and movie producer and basketball team owner Howard Peter Guber, whose pad uses 2.8 to 5.5 million gallons a year, the journalists say.

Williams and Corey note these homeowners didn’t break any laws at the time (if they pay, they can pump). But, under a new law, future droughts may see heftier fines for egregious waterers. Perhaps their aerial shaming will also have a salutary effect.

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