As the city seeks ways to conserve water to make its way through an intense drought, one Kimball Street home used an astonishing 816,873 gallons of water the past year, or an average of 2,023 gallons per day – five times the average use in the city.
Three other households – including residences on North Fifth Avenue, Burchell Hill Drive, and Barton Parkway – headed the top four with usage over 1,600 gallons of water per day, or more than 600,000 gallons per year.
While the City of Oakdale declined to name any of their big guzzlers, indicating that identifying a customer, even one using extraordinary amounts of water, would raise privacy concerns, a drive along Kimball and Burchell Drive can identify individual homes with lushly landscaped yards amidst drought conscious neighbors with golden brown lawns.
According to Oakdale Public Services Director Thom Clark, the average single family home uses 436 gallons of water per day. A review of city records supplied by Clark showed at least 41 households using over 1,000 gallons of water per day.
But Oakdale isn’t the only city with this situation. It’s the same story throughout urban California.
According to a report by the Center for Investigative Reporting, despite the drought, some residential customers in many neighborhoods are being allowed to use as much water as they want to buy, according to a review of utility records from the state’s biggest urban water agencies.
The Kimball Street home came close to making one of the 365 households of California in the CIR investigation that pumped more than 1 million gallons of water apiece during the year ending in April.
While the water continues to flow to residents, including the mega-users, the city has initiated an all-out public relations campaign to persuade the public to cut water use in response to what the state calls “the drought of the century.”
In April, Governor Brown issued an Executive Order which directed the State Water Board to implement mandatory water reductions in urban areas by 25 percent statewide. The provisions of the emergency regulation went into effect on May 18, 2015.
The city currently has an active public service campaign on water conservation from information on rebate programs for removing turf and replacing it with low water use landscapes, to stop washing cars, and even financial assistance for replacing toilets with high-efficient flushing models.
Earlier this year, Clark complimented city residents as a whole, stating they had done a great job in cutting back water usage, doing 42 percent better than the base year of 2013.
But as Oakdale is in its fourth year of drought, there doesn’t appear to have been any serious steps taken to stop the scores of other high usage customers from pumping enormous quantities of water during a statewide crisis.
When asked about the top users, Clark summarized that there may be a hidden problem like a leak the residents may not know about. He mentioned that in one instance earlier this year, a home was noted as using 2,800 gallons per day until a leak was discovered and usage was then reduced to the city average.
In past city council meetings, Clark said the city does issue warning notices to water violators and has the authority to fine them if they have to, but have not issued any fines to date.
“Warnings are usually enough,” Clark said in April.
On Monday, Oct 5, Oakdale City Manager Bryan Whitemyer said he was not aware of any city-issued fines or citations for excessive water usage. Whitemyer said city staff was in the process of discussing expanding water management efforts to possibly include a position specifically assigned to conservation and enforcement.