The California drought has affected more than just the Golden State’s landscape. These days in Beverly Hills, watering your grass, washing your car and filling your pool are all restricted activities, and at restaurants from Spago to Sqirl Kitchen, water for the table is available only upon request. Since state-wide water limitations went into effect earlier this year, celebrities have been publicly humiliated for keeping lush, green lawns and it can seem like around every corner lurks a pop agriculturalist to remind you it takes a gallon of water to grow a single almond. But when it comes to actually saving water in the face of an environmental emergency, has brown actually become the new black?
Not necessarily. While many residents fret over doomsday drought reports and boast of daily aquatic sacrifices, it’s still business as usual for a certain set, who will stop at nothing to keep their grounds as well moisturized as their faces.
One way around the limitations put on Californians’ water usage is as simple as using a map. “We know people who want their lawns watered, so they just buy water from other states,” Robert Gertz, the chief executive of the estate management and branding firm Majordomo, says. And while no client has requested that service of Gertz so far, rumors have swirled that any number of high-profile residents have engaged in such antics. Other Golden State luminaries are said to be looking for water sources closer to home: Actor Tom Selleck was recently accused of pilfering from a Thousand Oaks fire hydrant, but the mustachioed septuagenarian claims he paid for the H20.
Other residents are just ignoring the new laws outright. Case in point, at a recent benefit at a private estate in Bel Air, a waterfall decadently flowed as guests dined at the $100,000-per-couple affair. “They wanted to show off their property,” an attendee tells DuJour. “It’s very aristocratic: Look at our riches! We’re not even touched by the drought!” And if they were, the penalties would barely register. “They have the money, they’ll pay the fine,” Gertz says, referencing the $500 penalty for watering your lawn more than twice a week. “It’s so minimal and nominal. It’s all relative, depending on what your net worth is.”
Or what circles in which you socialize. Rachel Sarnoff, who lives in West Los Angeles and runs the lifestyle blog Mommy Greenest, says, “I wouldn’t break out a hose in the middle of the day without looking over my shoulder.” And don’t even think about wielding a water bottle in broad daylight in eco-conscious enclaves like Venice or Topanga Canyon. “I’m not the kind of person that would shame someone over a water bottle,” Sarnoff says, “but I definitely know those people.”
Those people aren’t just the militant dinner party guests lecturing on the evils of almond milk. Celebrities—at least those with brown lawns—are taking it upon themselves to dole out their own drought shame. The musician Moby is the face of a group encouraging people to forego showers if they’re going to eat beef (the group claims four ounces of the meat requires 450 gallons of water to produce), while actors Cheryl Hines and Ed Begley, Jr. are part of a faction eschewing car washes and decorating their vehicles with “Dirty For The Drought” bumper stickers, an effort that’s said to have saved millions of gallons so far.
Not all efforts have yielded the same results. When it comes to $25,000-per-table fundraisers, for example, donors don’t cotton to asking for a glass of water. “It was the first night that the hotel wasn’t allowed to put water on the tables for a function,” an attendee at a recent benefit recalls. “I talked to the waiter and he told me that it didn’t matter because once one person at a table asked for water, it spread like wildfire and everyone wanted water. It didn’t end up saving any water at all!”
It’s not clear how long water restrictions will plague California. And while some groups are willing to skirt the new laws entirely and others follow them with a vigilance that’s almost too intense, the most sensible idea for conservation so far seems to come from Palm Springs hostess Kelly Lee, who says, “In an effort to save water, I just serve vodka.” Hold the ice.