Los Angeles officials have steadfastly refused to identify the Wet Prince of Bel Air, the homeowner who pumped an astonishing 11.8 million gallons of water during a single year of California’s crippling drought.
The city said naming water-wasting customers wasn’t in the public interest, even after Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting found last fall that 100 residents of wealthy neighborhoods on the Westside of L.A. were pumping millions of gallons of water apiece, drought or no. And one household in Bel Air was using enough water for 90 families.
So we decided to figure it out ourselves. The hard way. Using satellite images, an algorithm developed to track drought and deforestation, and equations used in landscape planning, we identified seven of the most likely culprits.
Call these mega-water users Bel Air’s wet princes and princesses. The estimates aren’t precise enough to pinpoint one specific estate as the worst. But, not surprising considering the neighborhood, this thirsty group includes some of the wealthiest people in L.A., and they live in some of the city’s most expensive homes.
Their collective offenses on the water-guzzling front: fountains, swimming pools, an artificial waterfall, acres of lawn, subtropical landscaping, thousands of flowers, dozens of bathrooms.
The mega-users broke no laws, because the city’s Department of Water and Power allows ratepayers to pump as much water as they can pay for. But a new state law will subject mega-water users to hefty fines in future drought emergencies.
At the top of our list of water-pumping royalty based on our analysis:
- Former Univision CEO Jerrold Perenchio, owner of the 42-room French-style chateau from TV’s “The Beverly Hillbillies.” His compound of lawns, formal gardens, woodlands and vineyards would require at least 6.1 million gallons of water per year.
- Investment banker and onetime telecommunications tycoon Gary Winnick, owner of the 28,000-square-foot “Bellagio House” near the Bel-Air Country Club. The grounds, famous for floral gardens, require at least 4.6 million gallons per year.
- Movie producer Peter Guber, who is also part-owner of the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Dodgers. His wooded estate on a ridge above the Hotel Bel-Air needs at least 2.8 million gallons per year.
Other Bel Air mega-users, according to the analysis:
- Wal-Mart heiress Nancy Walton Laurie, at least 2.3 million gallons per year;
- Former Warner Bros. Chairman Robert Daly, at least 2.1 million;
- Beny Alagem, owner of the Beverly Hilton Hotel, at least 2 million;
- And soap opera producer Bradley Bell and his wife, U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Colleen Bell, at least 2 million.
Most of the mega-users declined to comment or failed to respond. But two acknowledged their high use and said they were trying to do better.
Daly said that since 2014 he had cut water use by 35 percent on his estate, tearing out lawns and employing other conservation measures. “I am very conscious of it,” he said of his water use.
After receiving our email, Alagem, the hotel owner, hired a landscaping company to reduce water usage significantly, said spokeswoman Marie Garvey.
Here are details on big water users in Bel Air: