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Greenest Lawns in Town

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rickchiasmallcapTexas is suffering through one of its worst droughts; the previous 12 months were the hottest and driest ever recorded in the state. But some Texans don’t seem to notice.

Despite water shortages and tight water restrictions in many localities, Texas’ business and political elite are using up to 19 times as much water as average Texans, according to utility records.

Let’s start at the top of state government. Gov. Rick Perry’s private residence in far west Austin used 790,000 gallons in the 12-month period between September 2010 and August 2011, according to utility bills the Observer obtained through a public records request. Texas taxpayers have been footing the bill for Perry and his family to live in the 4,000-square-foot, $10,000-a-month house in a tony subdivision while the historic Texas Governor’s Mansion undergoes repairs from a June 2008 fire.

Perry’s house sits on 3.5 acres featuring extensive landscaping and a pool. Perry’s water consumption is nearly eight times higher than Austin’s household average: about 100,000 gallons a year, according to the city utility.

Perry’s water usage may seem excessive compared to the average, but many people use a lot more water than the governor. In fact, Perry’s total doesn’t even put him in the top 50 water users in Austin—all of whom consumed more than a million gallons of water in the past year. That’s remarkable, given that the city’s water restrictions limited lawn watering to two days per week for most of the summer. Local environmental activist Paul Robbins obtained the list of the top 50 water users and released it to media outlets, including the Observer and NPR’s new StateImpact project.

The worst offender was Roger Girling, owner of a home health care business, who used 1.9 million gallons, or 19 times the average. The No. 3 water user was super-lobbyist Neal “Buddy” Jones. And sixth on the list was Republican congressman Michael McCaul, recently named by The Hill newspaper as the richest member in Congress (surpassing John Kerry). McCaul used 1.4 million gallons, nearly double Perry’s total.

It’s impressive that the governor’s water consumption can be nearly eight times the average, and he still can’t keep up with the Joneses—or the McCauls.

Dave Mann has been with the Observer since 2003. Before that, he worked as a reporter in Fort Worth and Washington, D.C. He was born and raised in Philadelphia. He thinks border collies are the world’s greatest dogs, and believes in the nourishing powers of pickup basketball.