City Hall has more than 17,700 water accounts, but if officials could simply cut the top hundred users in each category, that alone would nearly achieve the city goal of a 20-percent reduction in water usage by the end of 2016.
The top 100 commercial accounts used 11 percent of City Hall’s water last year, according to data provided by the Office of Sustainability and the Environment (OSE).
The top 100 multi-family buildings used nearly 6 percent of the water and the top 100 single-family users consumed 1.2 percent last year.
In 2014, when the city as a whole consumed 4.3 billion gallons of water, the top 100 water users in City Hall’s three categories used 777 million of those gallons.
These heavy users, comprising about 1.5% of the total customers, guzzled nearly one out of every five gallons provided by City Hall.
Last week, City Council voted to penalize big water users who can’t cut consumption by 20 percent over their 2013 totals. Penalties will start in August and begin showing up on bills in October.
OSE Manager Dean Kubani explained to council that many of the drought measures are aimed at reducing the usage among these top 100 users.
“That’s absolutely where the biggest water savings are to be had, so that’s where we focus our efforts,” he said.
OSE’s efforts to slow the top 100 users predate the recently approved drought measures, which can lead to $10,000 fines and the installation of a flow restrictor for perpetually hefty water bills.
“We send letters out to the top users; we’ve recently reached out directly to the top commercial users and we’ve offered to do audits,” Kubani said. “Sometimes people get into that top 100 list because there’s some leak. It might happen shortly after their meter’s read and the next time the meter gets read is two months later, and they’ve had a pretty bad leak, and their water use is way up. The Water Division, flags those when they see the usage spike.”
While overall water usage rose last year, usage among the top 100 users declined. Top commercial usage fell 4 percent last year.
“On the commercial side, the big numbers are probably more related just to the size of the business,” Kubani said. “The top users are the biggest buildings: the hotels and hospitals and things like that. They’ve just got a lot of use. And they actually really have been working with us closely, the very top users, on cutting their water use because it affects their bottom line. They’re on it.”
While the top multi-family buildings use a lot of water, they also pack in a lot of residents. Apartment buildings in general use much less water on landscaping. Four out of five apartment dwellers are using less water than council allotted or them. Top multi-family users cut their water intake by more than 6 percent in 2014.
About 42 percent of single-family users are below council’s threshold and therefore most will have to watch their water bills. Top users increased their consumption slightly last year.
“The top residential water users just tend to be people on the north side of the city with really big properties, really big landscapes, and I would suspect an awful lot of money,” Kubani said of the top 100 single-family water users. “And they might not even pay their own bills and they’ve got water bills that are thousands of dollars. Rising water rates don’t really impact them. So it just seems to be that the water has not become a big issue to them. We’re going to try to let them know there’s ways to cut down the water use.”
Last year, council approved OSE’s hiring of two new field staff positions. Those workers will go out and speak with residents and business-owners who have abnormally high bills.
“It is pretty remarkable that such a small number of water accounts are using such a large amount of water but I think on the flip side it shows what we’ve been telling people all along: 80 percent or more of the multi-family residents that live in Santa Monica are below our conservation thresholds already and they’re not going to have to save water,” Kubani said. “We’re not trying to hammer on every resident in the city. We’re looking at the largest water users and we’re really focusing on them and trying to provide them with the tools to save as much water as they can. I think there’s obviously a lot of opportunities to save water without making it have a big impact on people’s day-to-day lives.”