Drought Schmout: Wealthy Drain Millions of Gallons

Water barons use 40 times more water than average water customers

Some of the wealthiest people in Dallas are swimming in more than just money. They’re also consuming water at a rate that’s 40 to 90 times greater than the typical Dallas household.

The water bills of the DFW elite look more like mortgage payments. Big mortgage payments. And, the water they polish off on their sprawling estates is measured not in thousands of gallons, but in millions.

To find out who uses the most water in Dallas and Fort Worth, we asked the water departments in both cities for lists of biggest water users. (pdf)

The lists we include some of the most prominent names in local business. And, they reveal neighborhoods awash in water, at a time when parts of the state are facing the worst drought in 50 years. In central Texas this summer, boat docks sit on dry ground on the edges of dried up lakes, a reminder of how fragile water supplies can be.

The Water Barons

When billionaire Ross Perot ran for president, cutting the federal deficit was a centerpiece of his campaign. But, judging from the water bills at his Dallas home, he may not be applying the same zeal to saving water.

In 2008, city records show Perot consumed more than 4.8 million gallons of water at his 13-acre estate. That’s more than 40 times the typical Dallas water customer, who uses about 100,000 gallons a year.

This summer, Perot used more than 500,000 gallons in the month of June alone.

Perot’s water usage for 2008 puts him at No. 6 on a list of the city’s biggest water users. Through a spokeswoman, Perot declined to comment.

Strait Lane, where Perot lives, may be the best-watered street in the city. Two of his less well-known neighbors are also among the city’s 10 biggest water users. Last year, those three houses combined downed a total of 17 million gallons in just 12 months. 

That’s enough water to fill 128-million half-liter bottles of water, the kind you might buy in the grocery store. 

Prominent Texan Tom Hicks, the owner of the Texas Rangers baseball club and the Dallas Stars hockey team, polished off a whopping 8.7 million gallons in 2008 at his sprawling $35 million estate. 

If you took that amount water and poured it into Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, it would turn the playing field into a swimming pool. 

“The water would be roughly 8 feet deep," according to Jianping Zhu, chairman of the math department at the University of Texas at Arlington, who performed an analysis at our request.

Hicks paid $40,000 for water in 2008, putting him at No. 2 on the city’s list of biggest water users. A spokesman said Hicks considers this a private matter and did not want to comment.

Dallas’ biggest residential water user in 2008 was prominent trial lawyer Fred Baron, who died last fall.

Baron’s estate in Preston Hollow gobbled up 9 million gallons last year, with an annual water bill that topped $41,000. Baron’s widow, Lisa Blue Baron, said the property is also home to the offices of the family’s charitable foundation and has been used to host many large events.

“As environmental lawyers, my late husband Fred Baron and I always strived to be environmentally conscious, and to that end we had a well drilled on the property in efforts to use less of the city’s water for the lawn and grounds,“ said Baron in a statement.

How Much is Too Much?
For environmentalists, the water use of the Dallas elite is an issue of growing concern as the state looks for ways to conserve enough water to meet its future needs.

The state’s official water plan said Texans will need to cut water use by more than 25 percent in order to have enough water to meet demand 50 years from now.

 “Just because one has wealth does not mean you can waste water”, said Rita Beving Griggs, spokeswoman for the Sierra Club in Dallas.

Griggs was disappointed with some of the names on the top-users list.

“Some of them are leaders in our community, she said, and they could set the moral example as community leaders and dial that down."

But while some of the eco-conscious are concerned, the city of Dallas apparently is not.

The city’s water conservation manager, Carole Davis, declined to criticize homeowners who use 6 or 7 million gallons a year. 

"I don’t know that we can say we have a problem with that," Davis said. 

Davis said she could not comment on the biggest users, because she’s not sure how they’re using the water. 

"Just because someone uses a larger amount of water does not necessarily mean they’re wasting it," Davis said.

Dallas and Fort Worth have no limits on how much water a person can use, but both cities set prices on a sliding scale, charging big users more in an effort to encourage conservation. 

“We try to send the message through the pricing in our rates”, said Mary Gugliuzza, spokeswoman for the Fort Worth Water Department. But, Gugliuzza admits, some mansion dwellers cannot be deterred by cost.

In Fort Worth, we don’t know who used the most water last year. The city’s top two residential water users requested confidentiality under a state law that allows utility customers to keep their information private.

The No. 3 water user in the city is former Radio Shack CEO Leonard H. Roberts, who used more than 3 million gallons at his gated Fort Worth estate in 2008. A woman who answered the door at the Roberts home said he was unavailable to comment.

Griggs believes cities may need to consider a cap on water use, if the biggest users don’t cut back on their own.

"If you’re a person with unlimited funds, maybe that’s the only way to get that done," Griggs said.

The North Texas Municipal Water District says many things can be done to save water at a home of any size. 

The district recommends installing sprinkler systems that adjust to weather conditions to use less water, using native plants that require less water and covering pools to prevent evaporation. Rainwater can also be collected in storage systems and saved for watering gardens. 

Inside a home, the majority of water use is typically in bathrooms. New low-flush toilets can save more than two gallons for every flush. The cost of these items can be quickly offset by the volume of water saved.

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