Here we are again: another year, another list of Northeast Florida’s biggest abusers of our precious and dwindling water resources. We’ve been doing this for a while now, since 2007, this year against the backdrop of state water managers plotting to raid the St. Johns River to sate development downstate.
Each year, JEA provides us these completely public records on the region’s top 50 Water Hogs for roughly the price of a black-market kidney* (even though JEA already keeps tabs on its highest water users), and then gives the Water Hogs a heads-up that we’ll be naming and shaming them. And that’s fine. The whole point of this yearly exercise is not just to point and gawk, nor (necessarily) to scorn those whose names appear in these pages, but rather to call attention to the fact that water is finite, and if we aren’t careful, sooner rather than later we won’t have enough of it.
That’s a lesson these Water Hogs need to take to heart — but so do the rest of us.
Here’s the good news: We’re getting better. System-wide, JEA has seen cumulative usage drop from 35 billion gallons in 2012 to 33 billion gallons in 2013. Our top-10 Water Hogs — seven of whom graced this list last year — used 12.7 million gallons in 2013, which is a lot, yes, but less than the 12.9 million the top 10 used in 2012.
The entire top 50, in fact, were more water-conscious. In 2012, they totaled 53.4 million gallons; last year, just 49.2 million, a decrease of 7.8 percent — and a 28.3 percent decline since 2006. This is progress! So is this: In 2012, 29 residences used more than 1 million gallons of water. In 2013, just 18 did. (The average property owner uses 108,000 gallons a year.)
But our Water Hogs still sucked a whole lot. Our No. 1 offender, Ray C. Williamson Jr., who lives in a white stucco house in the Glynlea-Grove Park area that he purchased from family members in 2005 for $93,000, used 1.56 million gallons of water in 2013, enough to fill two Olympic-size swimming pools and a hot tub. (He ranked 47th in last year’s edition.)
His daughter, Kayla Williamson, says that pipes under the floor were leaking, and had been for several months. She and her father are trying to get the leaks fixed. “We keep the water off most of the time unless we need to use it,” she says. (JEA spokeswoman Gerri Boyce says that’s not the utility’s problem — repairs on the homeowner’s side of the water meter are the homeowner’s responsibility.)
At the other end of our top-10 list is financial planner and radio host Henry Madden, who used 1.1 million gallons of water at his St. Johns County home. He, too, blames a leak: “There was a major water leak from a major renovation of yard. Not happy!” Madden told us in a statement.
Meanwhile, last year’s No. 1, Lewis B. Walker, who’s made seven of our eight Water Hogs lists, fell to No. 8 this year. His Westside property used 1.16 million gallons of water in 2013, down from 1.5 million last year.
Since Folio Weekly started keeping tabs on JEA’s Water Hogs, this three-structure property has drained more than 10 million gallons of water. Walker, who lives elsewhere, did not return calls seeking comment.
You’ll notice, with a few exceptions, a trend: Many of our Water Hogs live in really big houses in really nice neighborhoods. That makes sense. Big houses use lots of water. They have four and five and six bathrooms and massive lawns that need careful irrigation and landscaping. Five of our top-50 properties, in fact, are beachfront (or near-beach), rich-people houses on Ponte Vedra Boulevard in St. Johns County.
If you want to know where all our water’s going, there it is: