How the One Percent Deals with Drought in California

Anna Louise Bardach tells the story of Montecito, California, an extremely wealthy enclave near Santa Barbara, which has enough money to buy its way out of the drought.
Graham Prentice / Shutterstock

"Though gifted with green hills and splendid ocean views," writes Bardach, "Montecito has the geologic misfortune to have been built on land with precious little water—indeed, less water than any other part of the central coast of California. An aquifer runs nine miles under southern Santa Barbara County, but only a tiny sliver extends into Montecito."

Since the beginning of the year, the Montecito Water District has implemented restrictions like ceasing construction on new homes, prohibiting the construction of pools and spas, and existing pools and spas being exempt from town water.

"For the most part, residents have embraced the restrictions," explains Bardach, "allowing Montecito to cut its water usage by 48 percent and leaving vast aprons of yellowed lawns as evidence."

The catch, however, is the scofflaws. In May, for instance, "837 defiant—or careless—residents coughed up $532,000 in penalties, or a collective overage of about 13 million gallons of town water." 

Then there are cases like Pat Nesbitt, CEO of Windsor Capital (the majority owner of Embassy Suites). Nesbitt has "long sought to convince local officials that his polo field, which is part of his 20 acre estate, is entitled to a discounted agricultural water rate. And he’s sued the Montecito Water District—twice, according to the water district’s attorney—to make his case." (He failed.)

Others are simply paying to ship water in from other, also presumably drought stricken locations. The most famous example, according to the anecdote that opens the article, is Oprah's 40-acre estate.

Full Story: Lifestyles of the Rich and Parched

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