This story first appeared in the May 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Hollywood soon will cling to a commodity more valuable than ratings or box-office receipts — water. As California’s historic drought enters its fourth year, local neighborhoods are on high alert following Gov. Jerry Brown‘s call April 1 to decrease water usage across the state by 25 percent. On April 21, the Beverly Hills City Council passed a strict plan that will seek to curb the city’s water usage by 36 percent (a state directive by February 2016) with the help of $1,000 fines.
How is the industry responding? Slowly but surely. All six major studios tell THR they have instituted water-saving plans. “Fox Studios has committed to a number of vital water-conservation initiatives,” says the studio in a statement, citing cloud-connected irrigation systems, new artificial turf and retrofitted cooling systems for offices and soundstages. Both Warner Bros. and Universal use reclaimed water and low-flow fixtures on the lots. “We’ve been vigilant on this issue,” says WB rep Jessica Zacholl, adding that the studio has been under water restrictions in Burbank for the past six months.
LL Cool J and Rachel Zoe tell THR they’re taking shorter showers, with the actor adding that he used to run water for five minutes beforehand. “I don’t run the shower now until I am ready,” he says. Same for longtime Beverly Hills resident Nancy Davis, “We’re trying to take very fast showers and we’re not watering our lawns too much.” Sharon Osbourne is much more specific. “When I pee, I don’t flush. Only when I do number two, I flush,” says The Talk host, who has stopped taking baths.
Residences such as the former Spelling estate (above) must reduce water by 30 percent.
Most water can be spared outside of the home, especially on lush estates from Beverly Hills to Malibu where lawns can suck up a tremendous amount of water. Actress Kate Walsh suggests switching to desert landscaping. “I’m in the process now,” she says. Billy Ray Cyrus is a step ahead. “I changed my landscaping last year and made it gravel and succulents and desert plants,” he says. “It looks cool and saves water.”
Top landscape architect Mark Rios of Rios Clementi Hale Studios says that conversations about drought-friendly solutions with his clients — studio chiefs and celebrities — have spread like wildfire. “Everyone is calling and asking questions about it and re-evaluating their gardens, their outdoor space and their outdoor consumption,” says Rios.
Even the new measures won’t be enough to solve what Beverly Hills Mayor Julian Gold calls a “crisis situation.” Explains Trish Rhay, assistant director of Public Works Services: “Landscape watering accounts for 60 percent to 70 percent of our total use, with the majority of irrigation use coming from single and multifamily properties, 75 percent of our customers. Going from three to two days a week with 100 percent compliance would only produce a 30 percent reduction and will not get us to 36 percent, which is the state requirement. We’ll need to see additional reductions in home and business use to meet that goal.”
The new fines will begin May 6 with the help of inspectors who will patrol Beverly Hills. (Good Samaritans can snitch on neighbors.) But don’t expect local golf courses to turn brown. Six of the industry’s top seven favored private golf clubs — from Hillcrest to Sherwood to Riviera to Bel-Air — decline comment on water usage. The exception is Lakeside, whose superintendent, Robert Hertzing, observes, “We were proactive about this situation and 23 years ago switched our irrigation system to work with reclaimed water. So fortunately the mandate won’t affect our course.”
Rupert Murdoch’s Moraga Vineyards, picture here, is not impacted.
New B.H. Rules
? Landscape irrigation is restricted to two days a week.
? Existing swimming pools cannot be drained and refilled.
? Exterior wash-down of buildings and vehicles is prohibited (except at car washes and with reclaimed water).
? With exceptions, users shall reduce water usage to 70 percent of normal.
? Restaurants will serve water only upon request.
? A tiered water penalty surcharge based on the cost of providing the higher volume of water will be established.
? Violations are a misdemeanor punished by a fine of $1,000.