Water-wise in Beverly Hills

Beverly HillsWith headlines like “Big water users like Beverly Hills, Newport hit hardest by Brown order,” Beverly Hills is being portrayed in the media, including the L.A. Times, as a water hog in our drought-stricken state. Beyond such headlines, this impression is only strengthened by such false information as that Beverly Hills has “no water restrictions.”

Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!

The reality is that we have in place conservation measures which are similar to those in effect in Los Angeles – whose water conservation efforts the Times praised in the very same article.  We have tiered pricing; we don’t allow hand washing of cars; we limit watering of lawns to two days per week.

But the name of our city is “Beverly Hills,” and it’s sometimes hard to go beyond the stereotype. Despite the fact that some 60 percent of our residents are renters, we are indeed home to some large estates with a lot of grass and greenery. There is a reason that Beverly Hills is known as “the Garden City.” The beauty of our city is also most certainly one of the reasons we are able to attract tourists from around the world, who also help inject revenue into the larger Southern California economy.

But we don’t live in a bubble and in addition to the conservation measures we already have in place, we are working on a Water Master Plan which will emphasize conservation and sustainability. We’re looking to find ways to recycle gray water and to use shallow ground water. We’d like to continue our regional work to find ways to recycle storm water. And, of course, we want to continue our conservation and efficiency efforts, which include encouraging the replacement of water guzzlers with drought-resistant plants — there is now much discussion of replacing lawns with Astroturf.  (Personally, I believe that live, natural, drought-resistant ground coverings are by far the best option. In general, I oppose the replacement of turf with fake grass; I also oppose the replacement of trees with fake trees.)

We recognize that “we’re all in this together,” as we’ve so often heard from Sacramento.  But with the governor’s mandate for urban areas to cut back on water usage by 25 percent, one can really understand why L.A. Times columnist George Skelton asks, “Why do farmers get a free pass from Brown?” Good question, especially considering that agricultural use accounts for 80 percent of the state’s overall water usage.

In excluding agricultural uses from his executive order, the governor seems to have forgotten that we’re all in it together. He has suggested that an executive order which would, for example, limit ultra-thirsty crops, would be an instance of “Big Brother.” This seems to be a very selective application of the concept of “Big Brother.” Isn’t telling a homeowner what days she can water her plants also an example of “Big Brother”?

According to the governor, it would seem some of us are more in it together than others.

While I recognize that agriculture is an important part of our state’s fiscal well-being, the 80 percent water usage it accounts for corresponds to a mere 2 percent of the state’s overall economy. Let’s not forget that urban areas are also important contributors to the state’s economy, and water is important to their success and livability. However, if the governor is so concerned about urban water use, he should take pro-active steps to rein in future development, as well. Even with significantly reduced per capita water usage, even as we continue to develop further hydrological efficiencies, increased development will quite naturally result in an overall rise in demand for this limited resource in our parched state.

Instead of solely focusing on urban areas, the governor should be looking at an overall water conservation strategy which attempts to create a better balance, which adheres to the principles of fairness, and which will ensure that we actually are all in this together.

For starters, like the city of Beverly Hills has already done as the first city in the state, the governor should ban fracking in all of California. Fracking represents not only a colossal waste of water, but the high pressure pumping of water and chemicals into the ground can provide no benefits whatsoever either to our environment or to our aquifers.

We in Beverly Hills are more than prepared to come together with the rest of the region and the entire state to do our part to create sustainable long-term solutions to the challenges that our climate presents us with. After all, our city is built upon the site of the old Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas, the ranch of the “coming together of the waters.”

But if we are all in this together, then let’s really all be in it together.

John Mirisch is the Vice Mayor of the City of Beverly Hills.


  1. The main reason agriculture is not on the list to cut back is because they have been forced to cut back for the last 20 years to the point that some farms are not raising anything on half their ground. Fracking has been used for over 40 years and it has never been proved to have any adverse effects. Even if you read the anti-fracking literature id does not say it causes any damage. It says it “might or May’ cause damage.

    • Ask the Good Vice-Mayor if any of the producing oil-wells in Beverly Hills (he knows where they are) are benefiting from water/steam injection – a precursor to fracking?

    • Maybe it’s time to let the Delta Smelt fend for itself. I’m for growing food, not more guppies. Do we REALLY want to put all of our food in the hands of foreigners who do not like the USA? Let the golf courses go brown. They also take up water and serve a very limited number of people, compared to the general population, who must all eat.

    • Very True. My niece married into an almond growing family. They have been water “punished” for a number of years now.

  2. Sure, if farmers have to give back a big chunk of their water allotments, it will just mean that they will grow less, and the price of produce and other table products that come from the Central, Salinas, and Imperial Valley’s will increase – an increase that the residents of Beverly Hills, Malibu, Rancho Santa Fe, and other such enclaves can well afford, but the hard-scrabble workers of Bakersfield may not. I’m sure it will not affect the price of imported kale at all.
    Got your Elite on, Mr. Vice-Mayor?

  3. There is exactly one active oil well in Beverly Hills, which is scheduled to be retired next year. And, as mentioned in the article, fracking is now banned in BH. While logic itself would suggest that fracking can’t possibly be good for the aquifers, we’ll leave the question of the overall impact on the environment for another venue: nonetheless, it is a colossal waste of water, which was the point in this context.

    Agricultural water use still is responsible for 80% of the available water, but hardly accounts for 80% of the economic development in the state. To subsidize/favor agricultural interests so people throughout the state can have cheaper kale makes zero economic sense, especially since much of the California harvest is exported, including to overseas markets. While some have suggested that we should let the free market step in and base water prices according to market demand, my point was another one, actually fairly simple: any cutbacks/conservation measures should not unduly and inequitably impact urban areas. The measures need to be fairly spread out among all water users, and, yes, that includes agricultural interests.

    Trying to play the “Beverly Hills”=”elite” card simply shows ignorance about the actual demographics of Beverly Hills and most certainly doesn’t do anything to advance anything resembling a rational argument.

  4. Bob Gibson says

    Sir, you are totally out of line on water usage. According to the California Department of Water Resources, Agriculture usage amounts to less than 20% of the water supply, Environmental usage amounts to a.most 80% of the state’s water supply!!!! Please get your information correct before posting this propaganda about how agriculture wastes water, we use water more efficiently than any of you in the urban areas and we produce the food you and most of this country need!!!!

  5. Show me where you got the 80% figure for agricultural usage and I will show you a bunch of liars!!!!

  6. Nowhere among political leadership is anyone discussing increasing water supplies through desalination. Why isn’t there a major effort to construct plants to ease the periodic water shortages and ensure a lasting supply, just as aqueducts were built in the 20th Century?

    The Pacific Ocean is a mighty large resource which could be tapped. Why not use it?

Speak Your Mind