California may have just emerged from a five-year drought, but that doesn’t mean its most elite residents are done fighting about water.
According to a new story in the “Hollywood Reporter,” celebrities in the fancy town of Montecito are at war with one another over private wells in the neighborhood. Particularly, Oprah Winfrey’s private well, which many residents believe is drawing more water than anyone else’s. Winfrey owns two properties in the area — a $28.85 million farm she bought last year, and a $50 million 42-acre residence she nicknamed “The Promised Land.” Both of these properties have wells, but last year Winfrey started digging yet another well on the farm property– and this is causing her neighbors some anguish.
“At first, our dealings with her were lovely and charming, and it has been really sad to think that they may not be so,” Susan Geston, Jeff Bridges’ wife, who is one of Winfrey’s neighbors, told THR. “I would love to find out what is going on up there. I don’t know who knows because things are done and permits are only applied for after the fact.”
One neighbor estimates that Winfrey is taking “10 to 20 times” what everyone else is from the well. Winfrey’s spokesperson disputed that, and told THR that “the property uses less water since [the new well] was acquired.”
Even if this is true, these private wells are controversial in the first place, because they allow wealthy residents to tap into the district water supply and pump out as much water as they need to without any regulation. This could lead to the water supplies drying out, or — if the wells are poorly constructed — to salt water seeping in and ruining the water supply.
“I am not opposed to public shaming,” a County Supervisor told HR about private wells. “Those wells are in the same water table that the water district draws from, and we don’t know how much water they are pumping. That is a problem.” [THR]