Water in the News: McCauls’ repeat presence on top water list

McCauls’ repeat presence on top water list prompts questions

By Mike Kanin, InFact DailyOctober 21, 2011
Reprinted with permission

For the third year in a row, US Congressman Michael McCaul (R-TX) and his wife Linda have returned to a list of the Austin Water Utility’s top water users. McCaul, who told the Statesman‘s Asher Price in 2009 (when he ranked seventh) that his household’s presence on that year’s list was thanks to a water leak, and then had a spokesperson repeat the same statement to KXAN in 2010 (when he ranked ninth).

Utility spokesperson Jason Hill told In Fact Daily Thursday that the McCauls reported that a contractor had struck one of their water lines in March 2011. The couple was ranked sixth on the FY2011 big user list.

A spokesperson for the Congressman suggested that an infrastructure problem may yet be to blame. Mike Rosen told In Fact Daily that several of the houses that appear high on the list are in the same neighborhood. “It seems highly irregular…the McCauls think it may be more than just a coincidence,” he said.

Though some of the addresses on the list are blacked out, at least two of the homes—that of the McCauls and one belonging to auto dealer Steve Late and his wife Ava – are on the same street.

In all, four of the top 10 residential water users from FY2010 are featured on a list of the top 50 of the Austin Water Utility’s residential customers in FY2011. Other recognizable names include former Longhorn and NFL running back Cedric Benson, onetime health industry executive Robert Girling, and auto dealer Doug Maund. Benson, Girling, and Maund were also each on the 2009 list.

In Fact Daily obtained the 2011 list from long-time Austin environmental watchdog Paul Robbins. Robbins got the list via an Open Records request.

Robbins has been a driving force behind many of the city’s environmental initiatives for more than 30 years. The Austin Chronicle Readers Poll named him Austin’s best environmentalist for 2011.  

The average Austin Water residential customer uses roughly 100,000 gallons a year. Robbins noted that the households on the 2011 list used 10 to 20 times that amount. “There has been a proposal for mandatory water audits for large customers for almost five years. The Water Conservation Division has not pursued it,” he said via email. “My own opinion is that in drought, there should be some mandatory cap on consumption.”

Hill was unable to verify whether the utility was considering such an effort.

Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza was asked whether the utility has an audit program in the works for large water users.

“There is not,” he said. “The only thing that we are working right now is continuing to explore the options for a commercial audit. I am not aware of a program where we would audit large residential water users. Outside of the current one day a week watering and the other restrictions that we have, (conservation is) strictly voluntary…but we would be willing to offer them any assistance that we can.”

Maund and representatives for Armstrong and Benson did not respond to requests for comment.

The FY2011 list features 50 names. Girling, who paid for 1.9 million gallons of water tops it. Following him on the list are Maund, then Neil (Buddy) Jones, Paul Zito, Ava Late, the McCauls, Christopher Carrier, Armstrong, Molly O’Connor-Kemp, and Shannon Ratliff.

Hill told In Fact Daily that four of the top 50 households on the list had received adjustments to their 2011 bills because of leak reports. However, none of the top 10 from 2011, including the McCauls, got similar adjustments.

The majority of the top 50 water users for FY2011 reside in either West Austin or the West Lake Hills region. The McCauls reportedly used 1.4 million gallons, and Benson was billed for 1.275 million gallons.

Information for Armstrong and Maund’s usage was blacked out by Austin Water officials. The utility offers residents a choice about whether to share usage data and their address.

“2011 was the hottest, driest summer in Austin’s recorded history,” added Robbins. “These top water users are usually the wealthiest people and can afford conservation equipment. They should be setting an example for the city.”

Austin Water’s FY2011 top user list features a variety of other information, including glances at the top large volume, commercial, and multi-family residential users. As might be expected, Samsung’s Austin operation led the entire pack with over 1.2 billion gallons of water use. That figure represents the largest single point of waterconsumption from the city’s water system by a long shot.

My comments on Infact story: Rudy Garza’s statements in this story are incorrect.  On May 3, 2007, the City Council authorized two programs for mandatory audits of irrigation systems for large residential and commercial customers.  There is a document confirming this on the City Council Web site, and there is ample documentation that these programs have been delayed between the 2007 authorization and the date this story was published.

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