Robin Hood would have a field day with this one if he dealt in drops of water instead of gold.
Debbie Alberts of Apple Valley, California has been very diligent about her family's water usage during the drought. She's forgone daily showers, torn out the majority of her lawn, and rationed her family's water down to 178 gallons per person per day.
That's nearly half of what they were used to using before.
Meanwhile, in the posh hills of Los Angeles, the "Wet Prince of Bel Air" drinks 30K gallons of water (that's 400 toilet flushes per hour with 2 showers continually running) while still keeping his lawn a nice lush shade of green.
Pretty drastic contrast, right? Aren't we supposed to be fined for such blatant disregard for the worst drought in California's history?
Fear not, someone is: Ms. Alberts.
Obviously someone somewhere has their priorities askew. Each of the 411 water districts in the state is responsible for coming up with their own ways to conserve water. According to the State of California, the districts are expected to reduce usage by a total of 36%.
With the differences between Apple Valley and LA, it's pretty clear some of these districts are not taking this reduction seriously.
The Apple Valley Ranchos utility is responsible for distributing water to the 20,000 customers in LA's high desert. They've also been ordered to cut their own usage by 28%.
That's 28% of the 36% suggested reduction for all of the districts.
The AVR has responded to this order by doling out "drought surcharges" to any household that exceeds a standard monthly amount.
Ms. Alberts is the sole provider for her husband and two children. With only about $22,000 a year, they're doing all they can to avoid getting charged extra. But their last bill had an almost $80 surcharge, leaving the family several hundred dollars in the red for their water bill alone.
“It’s impossible to get under the line,” Alberts said. “We wash clothes once a week. We flush every third time. Sometimes we go to the laundromat because we’re afraid.”
Barb Stanton, mayor pro tem of Apple Valley, complained about the unfair treatment of the different citizens of LA.
“They have all this disposable income, and they’re not conserving at all. We’re cutting back, and yet we’re being penalized. We have seniors on fixed incomes appealing to us — they don’t know how they’re going to pay their water bills.”
But even though there are those like the "Wet Prince," there are still others who are on Apple Valley's and the Alberts' side. One Bel Air resident noticed new homes being built with add-ons akin to castle moats.
“Someone has to say, ‘You can’t have five pools — you can have one pool,’” she said.
Other cities like Clovis in the Central Valley, has handed out $23,000 in water fines. Santa Cruz, using too much of its already perilously low water supply, has gone up to $1.6M in penalties.
Despite Apple Valley's overall complaints about their water costs, the AVR is not sympathetic. Tony Penna, the general manager, says residents should be able to live off of their water rations as long as they do so conservatively. According to the AVR, the typical customer can pay less than $70 a month.
“The idea it can’t be done, we’re not buying that. When you see someone who’s got a bill of $200 or $400, many times it’s because their dedication to conservation isn’t as good.”
In this drought, everyone needs to do their part. But not everyone is being fair.