California's only large water district that publicly shames water wasters is admitting it messed up in some cases, mistakenly reporting inflated numbers for some of its customers.
The Contra Costa Times was the first to report Wednesday that East Bay Municipal Utility District officials said they are re-examining the lists that contained close to 6,000 names of customers that the agency said violated its limit and were also made public.
EBMUD acknowledged the oversight after the newspaper found the goof, and officials said it might take two weeks or more to determine exactly how many customers might not in fact be taking lengthy showers or overwatering their green lawns.
"It's East Bay MUD that should be ashamed," Director John Coleman told the Contra Costa Times. "If you're going to fine customers and shame them publicly, you should be as accurate as possible. The current system isn't fair."
Coleman voted against releasing the lists last summer, the only board member to do so. He says this is a prime example of why "naming names" publicly is a bad idea.
"We need to make certain that, if we're putting their names out there, it's accurate information and cannot be wrong," Coleman told NBC Bay Area.
EBMUD Customer Service’s Sherri Hong defended the agency and the lists, saying they've helped reduce use "during this critical drought."
Hong said, despite the mistake, all the homes on the list were still in violation, but for some, the amount of water wasted may have been inflated.
"We apologize for that. This was an oversight on us," Hong said.
Hong said EBMUD plans to add another column to reflect the exact billing cycle for each customer, with the next list set to come out in mid-February.
One of the highest profile water wasters EBMUD announced last fall was Oakland A's executive Billy Beane. It’s unclear whether the subject of the "Moneyball" book and film indeed used just short of 6,000 gallons of water per day, as EBMUD reported in October 2015. The newspaper account did not mention him by name, and EBMUD has not yet released a full list of the mistaken water users.
But the Contra Costa Times did uncover that at least two of the top five users who made EBMUD's latest list earlier this month were said to be using far more than they actually used in the last billing period. One was a retired Orinda woman who was listed as using 5,437 gallons a day only used about 1,009 gallons per day -- just above the district's limit of approximately 1,000 gallons-per-day household, district officials said. The second, the newspaper learned, is an Alamo plastic surgeon who was listed as using 5,248 gallons per day when he actually used 3,453 per day – still more than 2,000 gallons more than he should, according to the district.
The newspaper uncovered the discrepancies after noticing that neither one had made previous guzzler lists, and wondered how could someone use more water in the fall and not the summer. In both cases, the district told the newspaper that crews couldn’t accurately read the customers' meters because something like a root, branch or a structure obscured the meter.