California cracks down on its Wet Princes

California will crack down on future “Wet Princes” – homeowners who use enormous quantities of water during droughts.

A bill signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown this week requires local water agencies for the first time to set limits on how much water residential customers can use after a statewide water emergency has been declared.

For decades, most utilities have allowed customers to pump as much water as they can pay for, drought or no.

Now, if water-wasters flaunt the new restrictions, they will face fines of up to $500 for every 748 gallons of overuse, the new law says.

State Sen. Jerry Hill of San Mateo proposed the measure last year after Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting published The Wet Prince of Bel Air, a story about mega-water use during a crippling four year-long drought.

The so-called Wet Prince was a homeowner on the west side of Los Angeles who used an astonishing 11.8 million gallons in a single year — enough for 90 families.

Hill said he heard about the issue from an outraged constituent who’d read the story. He said the measure corrects a basic flaw in state water conservation laws.

“You and I could be fined $500 for using a hose without a flow restrictor to wash the car, or if you used your sprinkler on the wrong day of the week,” he said. But mega-water users faced no penalties.

The law also will make the names of violators public, Hill noted. Up to now, California water agencies have refused to reveal the names of mega users, citing privacy concerns.

The law requires the utilities themselves to define excessive water use, considering such factors as climate, household size and average local water consumption.

Before the drought, the average California household used about 360 gallons per day, according to a state study. Oakland’s East Bay Municipal Utility District last year began imposing fines on customers who were using more than 1,000 gallons per day.

The law takes effect only after the governor proclaims a drought emergency. California is no longer officially in a drought emergency, thanks to last winter’ rains.

Lance Williams can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @LanceWCIR.