Greedy Gulpers

Northeast Florida’s top users have weaned off water compared to previous years, but they’re still slurping more than their share


Lewis B. Walker finally made it to No. 1 on our top 50 list of residential water users. In other words, he’s the Top Water Hog in Northeast Florida for 2013.

Walker’s property on Timuquana Road on Jacksonville’s Westside has been on the list for six of the seven years we’ve been outing the major water consumers in Northeast Florida. This year, Walker spent $9,061 for 1.48 million gallons of water, according to records obtained from the JEA. Walker’s telephone number was not listed, and he did not respond to a letter from Folio Weekly.

The Water Hog information was compiled from a list Folio Weekly obtained, for $175, from the JEA under a public records request. The list contained the customer's name, home address, county, gallons of water sold in the 2011-’12 fiscal year and the annual amount of each customer’s bill. We also looked up the property on the databases of property appraisers' offices in Duval, Nassau and St. Johns counties for information on the size of properties, square footage of each house and its market value, and records of recent sales.

The information from JEA shows the top 50 users consumed 53,428,817 gallons of water in the past year, with the top 29 users consuming more than 1 million gallons of water each. The other 21 on the list all used more than 900,000 gallons each.

Those are amazing amounts, considering the average customer uses about 6,000 gallons a month (or 72,000 gallons a year) for home use and about 3,000 gallons a month (36,000 gallons a year) for irrigation, according to Gerri Boyce, JEA’s media relations coordinator.

We mailed letters to the top 20 Water Hogs, but only a handful responded. One woman was so embarrassed that her name appeared on the list, she called three times apologizing for heavy water use and saying it must be a mistake. Another woman called and asked that her name be removed from the list, while a man called and attributed his heavy use to his having “three daughters.”

Seven of the top 50 Water Hogs live on Ponte Vedra Boulevard in St. Johns County. Some of the homes along that stretch of road near the ocean are new construction, requiring lots of water for irrigating new lawns or filling swimming pools, while some have reported broken or leaking irrigation systems.

The biggest water users also live on what used to be called “silk stocking row.” Four of the top 15 live in houses with a market value of more than $1 million — the average market value of the top 15 is $692,433. In 2012, the median value of a single-family home in Duval County was $115,642, according to the Property Appraiser’s annual report.

On a positive note, our top Water Hogs have become a little less piggish. The amount of water used by the top 15 has continued to decline over the years, from 28 million gallons in 2007 to 18.7 million gallons this year.

Last year’s top 15 Water Hogs also did better for fiscal 2011-’12. That group, minus homes sold or where information was not available, saved more than four million gallons of water over the previous year. Of that group, only Lewis Walker increased his water use by 128,950 gallons, from 1.358 million gallons to 1.483 million gallons.

In some cases, JEA customers used more water but had lower water bills than some of the other big water uses. Boyce said there are a number of factors that contribute to that, including adjustments for broken pipes.

In the past, JEA did not notify customers if they were running up huge water bills by high usage. Now, JEA is launching the JEA Tracker, an online tool for customers to keep track of both their water and electric usage. JEA customers who log onto their accounts at jea.com will have access to the service. As part of the tracker, customers can set limit notifications, so if they hit that limit, they will be notified. Customers can also go online and see how much water they're using on a daily and monthly basis.

Our goal for running this annual survey is to make everyone aware of use and misuse of this precious resource. Please see the box on water conservation tips and websites that offer more information. 

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