LLos Angeles is experiencing a historic drought, but that hasn’t stopped some of its most famous residents from keeping their The mansion’s mega lawns and ornate gardens are well watered. In response, local authorities resorted to a surprisingly simple trick to keep the wealthiest under control.

This solution is a tiny metal disk known as a “flow restrictor”. A restrictor can be installed in minutes over chronic water pipes, dramatically slowing down the flow of water in the home.

Restrictions have already been put in place at homes owned by numerous celebrities, including comedian Kevin Hart, rapper The Game and Scott Disick’s ex Kourtney Kardashian, according to water district records reviewed by the Guardian. Other famous names – addresses associated with Kim Kardashian may follow, Sylvester Stalloneand Madonna were included in the lists of offenders who were eligible for flow restrictions.

For water authorities, it’s an experiment in holding the ultra-rich accountable to the same standards as everyone else.

Cason Gilmer shows a flow restrictor that slows down the flow of water in a pipe. Photo: Jae C Hong/AP

“We took a very firm position to be equal. It doesn’t matter who you are, how much money you make, how famous you are, you’re all treated the same,” said Mike McNutt, a spokesman for the Las Virgenes Water District, which serves areas like Calabasas and Hidden Hills, which are popular with celebrities. .

A small but powerful solution

As California’s decade-long megadrought deepens this year, water authorities across the state have issued mandatory cuts, is charged with fines. But Las Virgenes had a particular problem, McNutt said: Their customers are so wealthy that fines are unlikely to change their behavior. despite the district ordering a 50% reduction in outdoor watering.

So Cason Gilmer, 36, Dist a senior field customer service representative, headed to the water supply shop and started fiddling with the mechanical solution.

The result is a small but powerful flow restrictor, a food-safe stainless steel disc with a tiny hole in the center. It can restrict the flow of water so drastically that it is difficult to take a shower and wash dishes at the same time, while watering the lawn outside becomes impossible.

It only takes about 10 minutes to install a flow restrictor in a water line outside a customer’s home, and the county adds a seal and sign warning of a $2,500 fine if the device is tampered with, McNutt said.

Gilmer says he first tested the device at home and it worked as he hoped. The sinks and toilets “worked fine”, the shower was running at about 60% of normal volume, but “you have to be very careful with the water” because “you can’t use two things at the same time”.

For the most part, customers, even celebrities, have been smart, Gilmer said, and haven’t thrown fits when faced with the risk of their water flow slowing to a trickle.

Gilmer Installs Advanced Water Metering System in Agoura Hills, California.
Gilmer Installs Advanced Water Metering System in Agoura Hills, California. Photo: Jae C Hong/AP

By September, the lawn around Kourtney Kardashian’s pool in Calabasas had turned brown, suggesting the reality star’s home had made changes after being added to a long list of customers eligible for a flow restrictor. This is reported by CBS News Los Angeles. In contrast, the lawn outside Kim Kardashian’s mansion was still a “perfectly manicured green,” the TV station reported.

According to public records, Scott Disick, Kourtney’s ex, did not escape the flow restrictor in his Hidden Hills mansion. In late July, the water district installed a flow restrictor at his Hidden Hills mansion for two weeks. water district records note that someone at Disick’s home “refused” to sign a commitment form that allows customers to avoid the flow restrictor by promising to reduce water use. Representatives for Disick, the Kardashians, Hart and Game did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Hidden Hills Mansion reportedly belongs to by Madonna, which is currently on the market for nearly $26 million, narrowly avoided having a flow restrictor installed in July after documenting to water district officials that a leak on the property had been fixed. Representatives for Madonna and the real estate agent did not respond to requests for comment.

The house is located among tall green trees and manicured lawns
Madonna’s Hidden Hills mansion reportedly did not install a flow restrictor after the leak was fixed. Photo: Zillow

Several celebrities, including environmentalist Erin Brockovich and former NBA star Dwayne Wadehave made public statements about what they are doing to use less water after local news reports that the names in bold were in violation of drought restrictions.

Others balked: A representative for Sylvester Stallone said in a statement that the movie star is trying to preserve more than 500 mature trees on his property, and that he has taken other steps to reduce water use and is working with the water district to address the situation.

“Massive deterrent effect”

A residence qualifies for a restrictor if it has exceeded the water limit by 150% at least four times since December 2021. But while more than 1,600 customers in the county meet that criteria, McNutt said, they actually installed the device very sparingly — just six to seven dozen installations by early September.

The device has only been in place for two weeks, and the water utility is prohibited from shutting off access to drinking water for health reasons, McNutt said. So far, they say, this tactic has not run into any legal problems.

Before their water use is cut off, customers have several opportunities to speak with water officials and change their approach. Even signing a letter of intent to meet conservation goals is enough to avoid a flow restrictor, though the county will continue to check to make sure customers are in compliance, McNutt said.

McNutt and Gilmer believe that the flow restrictor is already having a massive deterrent effect.

Driving around the area in early summer, they saw lots of green lawns despite the street watering restrictions. By August, the lawns looked more brown. News crews who wanted to ride along with water officials as they looked for people making mockery of the drought ended up being disappointed: Few, if any, rule breakers were seen, according to McNutt. Some households have even painted their lawns green to reduce water use, he and Gilmer said.

As far as they know, Las Virgenes is the only water district in the California which uses flow restrictors, but their unique approach is of national interest. They fielded inquiries from Texas and Florida, as well as other California watersheds. Gilmer said it looks like devices used to slow down the flow of water in agriculture, but nothing like it, and he’s considering a patent.

McNutt said he wishes more American celebrities would use their own skills to focus on the water crisis: “I’m asking any celebrity, any of them, to step up and use their platforms to talk about water conservation, to talk about climate change.”