Monday, March 23, 2009

One of the Wet 100 Reacts

I've known Andy Olson for many, many years. He's just about the nicest fellow you'll ever care to meet. He owns a company that organizes big events in Las Vegas, namely major fights and casino openings, that kind of thing. Most recently, he managed the opening of Encore.

Andy has a lovely home. Each year, he hosts an Easter Sunday brunch I usually attend. It's a pretty spread and all, but it's only .67 of an acre and, while it contains five bedrooms, he has lived there by himself for as long as I've known him.

So I was surprised when Andy landed at No. 76 on the Review-Journal's Henry Brean's big exposé on the top 100 water users in Las Vegas yesterday. And his story, I think, shows more than anything how Brean completely missed the real story in his midst because he evidently made absolutely no attempt to reach any of the people on this list.

Had he done so, what he would have learned was that Andy found a water leak last year that had sent his usage and bill through the roof. He didn't notice it at first because he had the bill on auto-pay and didn't look at it often. But last spring -- in a water-saving measure!!! -- he ripped out all his grass and replaced it with wood chips and other desert landscaping. When the bill only went up through the summer, he investigated, found the leak and resolved the matter.

"What I don't understand is, how come you haven't got someone at the water district looking at these usage levels and notifying people that something seems wrong?" Andy said. "I mean, maybe someone could have asked me, 'Are you filling a 3000-square-foot Olympic-sized swimming pool every day?' It was going straight into the ground. There was no flooding or seepage, so I didn't see it."

Olson also noted that his friend, the boxing promoter Don King, chimes in on the list at No. 96 and was No. 1 in usage per square foot. But King doesn't even live there most of the time and it's just a small townhome. Surely there's a leak?

Had Brean tried to contact the people he was shaming, he might have discovered there was this whole other, far more publicly useful, story here: The Southern Nevada Water Authority evidently has no controls in place to alert residents when their water use is so out of whack with their square footage that more likely than not, there's a technical problem.

Brean might also have realized that, while making a list that embarrasses people might be sexy and sell papers, it would have made far more sense to examine in greater detail the per-square-footage usage. That's where he might have found some water abusers, among the people who are using ridiculous amounts of water given the size of their properties and who either don't know or don't care. That a man with a 16-acre estate is using a lot more water than the rest of us isn't a surprise, is it?

And had he given folks like Olson a chance to explain, he would have probably enjoyed the irony that Andy isn't some asshole wantonly drowning his property while the city is parched but a guy who discovered his problem while taking steps to become more water-efficient! Instead, Andy's friends and neighbors are thinking they've finally learned how it is Andy always looks so clean!


Bernadette in Australia said...

I've stopped buying the only daily local paper in my city here in Australia for the exact reason you've demonstrated so clearly with this story Steve. Some time in the past ten years or so the mainstream media here decided news news is all about Us and Them. The so called news articles are all either throwing mud at some group 'elites' (politicians, sports stars, actors - doesn't really matter who just as long as they're perceived as a "them") or whipping the masses into a fearful frenzy about some group of marauding criminals or would-be criminals who are a different kind of "them" (gangs of graffiti artists, anyone under 25, assylum seekers...). The kind of thing you did here - actually following up on a story and finding out what the facts mean - doesn't seem to happen anymore. So, congratulations Steve you just might be the last proper journalist alive.

Anonymous said...

Your friend could also have looked at HIS bills and realized there was a leak, or perhaps his staff might have noticed. It's not just the water utility that has a responsibility here.



I agree completely, SG, and so does Andy. But every other water district in the southwestern US, from what I've gathered since this post went up, has a mechanism in place to take notice of these sorts of bizarre usage spikes. Water is very inexpensive. For some people, a $200 or $300 water bill doesn't seem like much. To the water district, it represents a massive drain on the resources.

Anonymous said...

Point made.



To give you some idea of how inexpensive water is here, by the by, Miles and I average about $10-$20 a month. But we're in a townhouse so we're not charged for the water used on our front lawn. So our usage is primarily inside the house -- drinking, wash, dishwasher, toilet and showers. And some days, I forget to take one! :-)

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