Last week we reported on the top 25 water users in Austin, with a map showing where the biggest consumers are located (shown below). On the list were familiar names like Lance Armstrong, Cedric Benson and Roy Spence. Coming in at number seven was Congressman Michael McCaul, who lives in Westlake. He used 1.4 million gallons of water last year, with a water bill of at least $13,300.
Today the Texas Tribune reports that according to McCaul, it’s just a leak. Mike Rosen, the congressman’s spokesman, explains:
[McCaul] has dealt with a “series of leaks over last two to three years,” and “the leaks for the most part have gone undetected for a long time,” because they were not visible on the surface. He said one leak involved a swimming pool and another, which would have affected the recent numbers, involved a busted pipe related to a contractor’s work for a neighbor’s realtor.
That is a serious leak. But according to Austin Water Utility, that excuse may not hold water.
The congressman has been on the list of top ten water users in Austin for the last three years. He was the ninth highest user of water in 2010, and placed 7th on the list for the past year, a period that begins with the arrival of a record single-year drought. When McCaul showed up on the list (again in seventh) for a month in 2009, he told the Austin American Statesman that his high water use was due to an underground sprinkler leak, and it had since been fixed. However, as the Statesman pointed out at the time, for several months before and after the alleged leak, he consumed copiously high amounts of water.Austin Water Utility says that they looked for leaks in McCaul’s neighborhood last year. Here’s what they discovered:
The team “did not find any leaks on the main that serves that area,” according to Jason Hill, a utility spokesman. The way the system works, he said, is that water charges will only show up on a homeowner’s bill after it has gone through the individual’s meter, so, “even if we had some sort of leak in our system before that meter, no one on those meters will know that — will be charged for that water.”
While the congressman can certainly afford a five-figure water bill (he is the richest man in Congress), there may be a steep political cost for his excess,
This week state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon testified before the Texas Senate Natural Resources Committee that the drought will not be over until at least next February, and may last much longer. Congressman McCaul now finds himself in the awkward position of needing to lead his district and represent the state at a time of extreme thirst, while his water bill indicates extraordinary consumption.
A map of the top 25 water users in Austin: