Las Vegas outs its water hogs -- at least when asked
What do Sheldon Adelson, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and the Sultan of Brunei’s brother have in common?
Well, they’re all mind-bogglingly wealthy. But here’s something else: They’re all listed on a recent tally of Las Vegas’ biggest water users, each draining Lake Mead of up to 18 million of gallons a year -- hundreds of times more than the average resident.
Water hogs, all of them.
“We’re not talking about your average homeowner, someone who lives in your typical housing tract,” Bronson Mack, spokesman for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, told the Los Angeles Times. “These are the owners of some very, very large and very lush properties. We are talking a lot of grass.”
As California and the American West grasp for water amid a lingering drought, providers such as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power have resisted releasing the names of the top residential users.
The California Public Records Act bars them from divulging such customer data, authorities say.
That’s not the case in Nevada.
Las Vegas officials have released the names of known abusers of the tap, faucet and spigot for decades.
But this is no shame game. They don’t flaunt the list on their website. They don’t run ads in the local newspapers.
These water cops prefer the carrot to the stick.
“We don’t ever anticipate being in the position where we’ll publicly shame our customers,” said Mack. “That would be counterproductive. Or goal is to work with people to comply with our conservation measures.”
Since the 1990s, Vegas water watchers have released the top-users list -- for both business and residential -- in response to a Federal Freedom of Information Act request, usually made by the media.
“We did it a little in the 1990s,” Mack said. “But it became pretty much an annual request after 2000.”
In 2008, the leading water-users list was dominated by “casino executives, entertainers, professional athletes and billionaire business giants,” according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
At the time, the top prize went to Prince Jefri Bolkiah, brother of the Sultan of Brunei, whose 16-acre compound used enough water in a year to supply more than 100 average Joe Blow homes.
In second place was Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, whose 33-bedroom mansion sucked nearly 14 million gallons of water a year. That’s a lot of long, hot showers.
In 2013, the most recent list available, some old residential offenders were still at it. But Public Water User No. 1 was (drum roll, please):
Well, you wouldn’t recognize the name, but the person owns several contiguous properties.
The Sultan of Brunei’s brother still ranked No. 2, although his water use (or abuse) had dropped from 18 million gallons to 11.3 million.
Some other notables:
- The Fertitta family, owners of the Station casinos (No. 4)
- Phyllis Binion, wife of the late casino owner Ted Binion (No. 36)
- Floyd Mayweather Jr. (No. 46)
- Sheldon Adelson (No. 78)
As for commercial overusers for 2013, major casinos on the Strip held the top spots (no surprise there), with the Wynn, Mandalay Bay, Venetian, Bellagio and Caesars leading the way.
State officials defend the casinos’ usage, saying they use recycled water in their landscaping and water shows (read: Bellagio), so the numbers (555 million annual gallons for the Wynn) aren’t as bad as they might seem. Most of the water used in the city is cleaned and returned to Lake Mead, officials say. As for the casinos, Mack said, 97% of the water they use goes back to Lake Mead.
The 2014 water list has not been released, and Mack said it would take several weeks to compile.
So what happens when a new high-water list is about to be issued?
As a courtesy to residential users, water officials will alert them that their names will be released to the public in a way they probably wouldn’t want.
“The most typical response we get is that people want to know how high they are on the list,” Mack said.
Sometimes, public scrutiny reduces flagrant overwatering.
In 2013, officials reached out to casino executive George Marnell, who was surprised to learn that he was No. 25 on the list.
“He said, ‘I didn’t realize that my water use was that high,’” Mack recalled.
Then Marnell asked officials to help him devise ways to cut back.
You might wonder why the uber-wealthy use so much water.
One guess: They look at their neighbor’s gargantuan lawn and act on an old adage:
The grass is greener on the other side of the fence.
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