Action News Investigates: How much water elected officials are using

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The City of Fresno instituted some of the earliest restrictions on water usage. And some of its city leaders have gone from severe water wasters to conservation heroes.

City of Fresno Elected Officials Water Usage (PDF)
Elected Officials Water Usage Public Records Act response (PDF)

The state has demanded Fresno cut its water use by 28% compared to 2013 levels. So Action News made a public records request to see how our politicians were doing. As we discovered, if the rest of the city follows the leaders -- and their sometimes unique ideas -- that should be an easy goal to reach.

We found the house and the lawn that in 2013 used more water than any others owned by elected officials in the state of California. "So, I had a big sinkhole right there and it was just flooding this whole back area right here," said Fresno council member Oliver Baines.

Baines had just discovered some major leaks before findings from the Center for Investigative Reporting soaked him in water wasting criticism. Two years later, he's using less than one-tenth the water and that sinkhole is about the only lush green piece of his lawn. "I think it's the reality of where we are and I think we've all had to adjust our perception," he said.

From Mayor Ashley Swearengin's lawn to council member Lee Brand's and all across the city, brown is the new green.

My public records request revealed every elected official in Fresno has cut water usage by at least 38% since 2013. And letting their lawns suffer is just the beginning.

"I don't let the faucet run while I'm shaving," said council member Clint Olivier. "I don't let the faucet run while I'm brushing my teeth."

Council member Paul Caprioglio's bathroom conservation is even more complicated. He showed us how he collects shower water as it warms up and dumps it in his backyard pool.
The pool stays full, but the lawn can't match its color. "And I'm proud to say that District 4 has probably more brown lawns than any other district in the City of Fresno," he said.

"That sounds weird to hear," a reporter responded.

"It's weird to say, but I think it represents the commitment of the citizens of Fresno," Caprioglio said.

A couple of the politicians are still using about twice as much water as the average customer, although they do have larger lots and bigger families. The city as a whole has cut water usage by about 18% since the end of 2013, according to spokesman Mark Standriff.
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