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September 27th, 2006 Ian Demsky | News Stories
 

Hydro Hogs

Our annual list of the biggest hosers in Portland.

     
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Sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke famously remarked that it's silly to call our planet Earth when, in truth, it's mostly water.

Nobody knows that better than Portlanders, who pay for their pristine summers with cold, wet winters. Some gray January mornings, it seems like there might even be too much water.

It's easy to feel spoiled here in the Rose City. We've got rivers coming out the wazoo, wetlands where blue herons nest, and sparkling Bull Run goodness with the turn of the tap.

Yet with the grueling dog days of summer behind us and months of drizzle and downpour ahead, it would be easy to forget that on average, Portland gets less rain than New York City, Cincinnati, Houston or even Evansville, Ill.

Of the 36 inches that fell on Portland last year, just 5.4 inches fell from June through September, when water demand is highest. This year, less than 2.5 inches fell between June 1 and Sept. 22. The first fall showers have started, but in late August and into September, much of Multnomah County was been considered "abnormally dry" by the National Drought Mitigation Center.

So how do Portlanders fare at conserving this precious resource? Quite well, thank you. In fact, Portlanders cut their daily household water use from 181 gallons in 2001 to 163 last year. That's impressive when you consider the national average is about 100 gallons higher, according to the American Water Works Association.

But the bad news is, not everyone in Portland or the surrounding suburbs has caught the civic spirit of conservation, as underlined by our (mostly) annual "Hydro Hogs" survey of the area's top residential water users.

The average Portland household uses nearly 60,000 gallons of water a year. But our Hogs averaged 12 times that much!

Why should you care?

First, if everyone in Portland claimed their right to use as much water as they want and splashed it about as much as the highest users in the region, there simply wouldn't be enough water to go around—we'd need 60 million more gallons per day than can be delivered, with nothing left over for commercial and industrial users or other districts that buy water from us wholesale.

Second, that water comes from somewhere. As our population continues to burgeon, we take more and more water from rivers to meet our needs, says John DeVoe, executive director of WaterWatch of Oregon, a river conservation organization.

"The rivers only have so much to give," he says.

David Shaff, who heads the Portland Water Bureau, says running out of water isn't a realistic worry.

"We're OK with people using a lot of water," he says. "We just want them to use it wisely."

Nonetheless, beauty is in the eye of the beholder—one man's immaculate landscaping is another man's extravagance.

Here, then, are the region's top water users, the market value of their homes as kept by county assessor's offices (these tend to be lower than what they would actually sell for because the information is 18 months old and prices have continued to climb), the size of their property, how much water they used in the fiscal year ending in June and where they ranked in past surveys. We also took the liberty of estimating how much each resident was spending on water each year, not including fixed monthly fees or sewer rates, which are calculated differently in different districts and, in some places, are added to property taxes rather than utility bills.portland's top 10

1. Donald and Kathy Froom Southwest 45th Avenue, Bridlemile

Market value: $786,000

Lot size: 1.15 acres

Water used: 785,400 gallons—enough for a person to drink eight glasses of water every day for 4,303 years.

Previous rankings; No. 3 in 2001, No. 7 in 2002, No. 15 in 2003, No. 2 in 2004.

Annual bill: $1,860

Not far from the brown outfield at Hamilton Park, the grounds around the Froom house, nestled behind a metal gate and row of spiky pines, are the picture of spring. When WW called the family nephrology (kidney doctor) practice, we got a "no comment"—the same as the last time we asked in 2004. Since then, the Frooms' water usage has risen by almost a third.

2. Ron and Christine Sauer Southwest Tualatin Avenue, Southwest Hills

Market value: $2 million

Lot size: .45 acres

Water used: 633,556 gallons—if it were beer, they could buy more than nine rounds for every man, woman and child in Portland.

Annual bill: $1,500

When WW visited the home of Mazama Capital Management founder and chief investment officer Ron Sauer, the plants and mossy rocks in front of the stately house glistened as if from a recent shower. As we were leaving, a woman driving a black Chevy pulled up. We told her why we were there, and she said there had been two leaks at the "pond in back." City water officials say the Sauers questioned a high bill back in March, but never followed up to inform them of any leaks. Before we could ask the woman's name, she said, "That's really great. Thanks. That's really embarrassing," and walked into the house.

3. Kenton Gregory Southwest Council Crest Drive, Southwest Hills

Market value: $1.95 million

Lot size: .52 acre

Water used: 598,400 gallons—if it were blood, it would be enough to fill the veins of the entire population of Oakland, Calif.

Annual bill: $1,420

Gregory, the inventor of HemCon bandages, which use shrimp-shell molecules to attract blood cells, says he's been worried he was going to make our list this year. "I have a fracture in one of the pump lines to my pool," he says. "And it's costing me a fortune. I've got to get a backhoe in here. I've got to figure out how to get it in my back yard to dig those pipes up." City water officials say Gregory was notified his usage might indicate a leak, but they never heard back from him.

4. Andrew and Tiffany Wiederhorn Southwest Greenleaf Drive, Southwest Hills

Market value: $7.16 million

Lot size: 2.03 acres

Water used: 523,600 gallons—enough water for a two-minute prison shower every day of a 179-year sentence.

Previous rankings: No. 12 in 2002, No. 4 in 2003, No. 3 in 2004.

Annual bill: $1,240

Andrew Wiederhorn, who amassed a fortune as a financier before serving an 18-month sentence at Sheridan Federal Correctional Institution for filing a false tax return and paying an illegal gratuity, didn't respond to WW's requests for comment. When we visited his palatial estate, halfheartedly hidden behind a towering hedge and dark stone wall, we were stopped by monkey sculptures jeering from a pointy metal gate sealing off the driveway.

5. Mark and Kathy Parker Southwest Hewett Boulevard, Southwest Hills

Market value: $1.05 million

Lot size: 1 acre

Water used: 491,436 gallons—the amount of water that would be sweated out by someone exercising nonstop for 224 years.

Annual bill: $1,160

Mark Parker, who took the helm as president and CEO of Nike earlier this year, is something of an accidental water waster. He got back to us quickly and courteously explained that a water pipe broke while the family was away and went unnoticed for three weeks. "We certainly appreciate how important it is to conserve water—even in the Northwest where it appears to be abundant," he said in closing his email to WW. City water officials said the Parkers had not informed them of the leak. (So he stayed on our list under the methodology described in our sidebar, page 27.)

6-7. (tie) Jordan and Mina Schnitzer Southwest Hessler Drive, Hillsdale

Market value: $1.38 million

Lot size: 1.39 acres

Water used: 490,688 gallons—enough water to flood their property to a depth of 1 foot and still have enough left over to meet an average Portland family's needs for a year.

Previous rankings: No. 7 in 2001, No. 1 in 2003.

Annual bill: $1,160

Jordan Schnitzer, president of Harsch Investment Properties and scion of the Howard and Arlene Schnitzer fortune, told us he plunked down $8,500 to have his plumbing overhauled in 2003 when a tenacious underground plumbing leak caused his water use to skyrocket to more than 2 million gallons. And his use this year is down 40 percent from where it was in 2001. Schnitzer left us a phone message pointing out that he had a large lawn and saying, "As long as there's no water shortage, then we're not hogging water from anyone else. So we're just growing expensive tomatoes."

The first thing one hears walking up to his house is water burbling in the yard's immaculate Japanese gardens.

6-7. (tie) Howard Hedinger Southwest Arthur Way, Southwest Hills

Market value: $1.61 million

Lot size: .38 acre

Water used: 490,688 gallons—enough water to run a load of dishes through your dishwasher every night (and twice on Sundays) for nearly 59 years.

Annual bill: $1,160

Steel bigwig Hedinger, chairman of American Industries investments, did not respond to requests for comment. He is best known, in some circles, as the ex-husband of Meier & Frank's most famous underwear model, Juanita Howard. Standing outside a metal gate at the foot of his driveway, it was hard to get a full sense of his property, but of note were the lush, green lawn, sky-grabbing trees and bright yellow flowers.

8. Ryan O'Farrell Southeast Belmont Street, Mount Tabor

Market value: $1.45 million

Lot size: .63 acre

Water used: 488,444 gallons—enough to do a load of laundry for almost every person living in Corvallis.

Annual bill: $1,160

O'Farrell, co-owner of Pacific Northwest Mortgage, made no bones about his consumption. "I don't think I'm wasteful," he says. He likes to look at a green lawn rather than the brown lawns of nearby homes. His historic property, which is sometimes open to the public, is landscaped with trees, two rose gardens, a vegetable garden and rhododendrons. Five family members share six bathrooms. O'Farrell says he installed new sprinklers earlier this year that are supposed to be more efficient and says he waters in the morning, when there's less evaporation.

"Do you think I'm being wasteful?" he asked a reporter, who declined to answer.

9. Lewis Scott Southwest Humphrey Boulevard, Southwest Hills

Market value: $1.19 million

Lot size: 6.9 acres

Water used: 472,736 gallons—enough water for a family of four to each go to the bathroom twice a day for nearly 54 years.

Previous ranking: No. 2 in 2001

Annual bill: $1,120

Scott, a lawyer who used to be associated with Lane Powell Spears Lubersky, and whose bar membership is inactive, did not respond to a phone message; the letter we sent came back undelivered. At the home, a three-tiered fountain played at

the bottom of an ivy-lined drive that's easy to miss, even if you're looking for it. The portion of the yard visible from the front of the house sported rose bushes and metal, Japanese-style lanterns.

10. Roger and Becky Edwards Southwest Orchard Hill, Lake Oswego

Market value: N/A

Lot size: .69 acre

Water used: 457,028 gallons—the amount of water that cows would require to produce enough milk to serve at snack time to an elementary-school class of 32 kids every school day for 624 years.

Annual bill: $1,080

The Edwardses did not respond to our letter seeking comment. And no one answered our ring at the home's gate, which was nestled in between banks of pink, white and red flowers. The flowers also ringed the 10 trees lining the driveway, looking striking against the immaculate green lawn.

Water Districts Outside Portland: The Top 14*

* No. 15 informed us of a leak just before press time.

1. Rasheed and Fatima Wallace Southwest Greenwood Road, Dunthorpe

Market value: $4.47 million

Lot size: 2.16 acres

Water used: 1,429,428 gallons—if gallons were

Blazers fans, Wallace could sell out the Rose Quarter's 20,000 seats for 71 games, or nearly two full seasons of home games.

Previous ranking: No. 2 in 2004

Annual bill: $3,090

Ex-Blazer forward Rasheed Wallace didn't respond to a request for comment, but his mother-in-law confirmed the Detroit Piston still owns the property. Even if he's not spending much time in PDX these days, someone's been keeping his grass green. Only a small slice of the home's roof could be seen from the closed gate. From that distance, it was impossible to tell whether the four-tiered fountain in the driveway was flowing.

2. David Shutte Twin Creek Court, Lake Oswego

Market value: $542,000

Lot size: .23 acre

Water used: 1,250,656 gallons—enough to fill more than seven six-lane World Swimming Championship pools.

Annual bill: $1,960

Shutte, the managing director of energy investments for Aequitas Capital Management, did not respond to our request for comment. His tasteful brown brick home sits at the end of a cul-de-sac with some type of weeping conifer in the front yard and a wreath of lilies and birds of paradise on the door.

3. Andrew and Elizabeth Bretthauer Northwest 317th Avenue, Hillsboro

Market value: $634,000

Lot size: 1.3 acres

Water used: 1,130,228 gallons—if it were motor oil, it would be enough for 1,000 cars' regularly scheduled oil changes for 226 years.

Previous ranking: No. 7 in 2004.

Annual bill: $1,860

Bretthauer, the president of Bretthauer Oil, did not respond to requests for comment. In 2004, his wife said he was a "really big gardener." In the interval, their water usage has fallen by 28,000 gallons, or about 2 percent.

4. Robert Pamplin Sr. Edgecliff Road, Dunthorpe

Market value: $2.44 million

Lot size: 3.2 acres

Water used: 1,059,916 gallons—enough water to make homemade paper and self-publish 21,198 copies of the King James Bible. Sitting atop the stack, one would be a third of a mile closer to Heaven.

Previous ranking: No. 4 in 2004.

Annual bill: $2,030

Pamplin Sr., who made the family fortune as chairman of the lumber giant Georgia Pacific, is not to be confused with his son, Portland Tribune-owning Robert Pamplin Jr. A woman who answered the phone at the Pamplin family corporation said Pamplin Sr., who is in his 90s, could not be reached directly but that a message would be passed along to his family. No one responded. We also left a business card with a housekeeper.

5. Allen Engelmeyer Southwest Knaus Road, Lake Oswego

Market value: $2.56 million

Lot size: 1.74 acres

Water used: 1,041,216 gallons—that much water weighs 4,165 tons, or about as much as 35 blue whales. Laid end to end, the whales would stretch from the east end of the Hawthorne Bridge to Southeast 16th Avenue.

Annual bill: $1,630

Engelmeyer, whose name was also listed as Allan on some public records, did not respond to requests for comment. We left a message for Engelmeyer by speaking into the keypad outside the home's gate. The home, which looks like it would take the better part of a minute to walk to from the road, is mostly hidden from view behind a double row of pointy shrubs. There wasn't a brown spot to be found on the lawn.

6. Brian and Tina Shaffer Southwest Military Road, Dunthorpe

Market value: $3.56 million

Lot size: 1.05 acres

Water used: 985,864 gallons—the equivalent of nearly 1.8 million six-packs (the bottle return on which would be about $528,000).

Annual bill: $1,810

Shaffer, a urologist, did not respond to requests for comment. The beige home follows the curve of the half-moon driveway, where a gas lamp was burning at noon and a small fountain flowed. Some workers who were unloading groceries said no one was at home.

7. Kent and Karen Holce Northwest Tuality Way, Forest Park

Market value: $2.47 million

Lot size: 5.78 acres

Water used: 949,960 gallons—enough water to fill 316 heavy-duty fire trucks.

Annual bill: $3,260

Kent Holce, co-founder of Veris Industries, says, "Conspicuous consumption is not the key word here." The problem was a leaky pipe between his house and an outbuilding. "It was a pretty major project," says Holce, who follows in the footsteps of his entrepreneur father, Tom Holce, a previous Hydro Hog. "Also, we have some agricultural uses on this property." The

land, which the Tualatin Valley Water District says has a larger-than-average connection, also supports the family's non-commercial apple orchard—which they irrigate—along with three sheep and 32 chickens, according to Karen Holce. She suspects they have another leak under their chicken coop.

8. Robert Noyes Jr. Southwest Tryon Hill, Dunthorpe

Market value: $2.11 million

Lot size: 4.42 acres

Water used: 921,536 gallons—as much water as passes through Portland's 127 public drinking fountains in six days.

Previous ranking: No. 3 in 2004.

Annual bill: $1,630

When Noyes, owner of Rono Graphics, learned of his high usage in 2004, he actually seemed glad and thanked WW for bringing it to his attention. He figured he had been overwatering his lawn and mountainous shrubberies. Since then, his usage has fallen by a third—but it's still more than 15 times what the average Portland household uses. He did not respond to this year's requests for comment.

9. Andrew and Beverly Honzel Forest Meadows Way, Lake Oswego

Market value: $1.27 million

Lot size: 2.1 acres

Water used: 878,152 gallons—if it were wood, it would make a 2-by-4 that was 400 miles long.

Previous ranking: No. 10 in 2004.

Annual bill: $1,370

Beverly Honzel, whose husband retired from the wood-products industry, said in '04 that the water filled their pool and kept up their lawn, evergreens, hydrangeas and Japanese maples. This year she declined comment and asked a reporter whether it was legal to print their name without permission. (It is.) The Honzel Family Foundation is among Oregon's top givers, doling out nearly $830,000 in 2004, according to the most recent tax filings available.

10. Jean Coleman Southwest Military Road, Dunthorpe

Market value: $3.28 million

Lot size: 1.48 acres

Water used: 860,200 gallons—if it were beer, it would be enough to get 1.8 million people (the entire populations of Philadelphia and Miami combined), each weighing 180 pounds, legally too drunk to drive.

Annual bill: $1,450

Coleman, an interior designer and real-estate investor, says she bought the home because of its gardens. She also put in a pool a few years ago. "I do use a lot of water," she says. "This will give me a little impetus to get the gardener to do more drip irrigation." Coleman's circular driveway rings a small hill featuring lush plants set amid cascading waters.

11. Larry and Joyce Mendelsohn Southwest Military Road, Dunthorpe

Market value: $2.83 million

Lot size: 1.86 acres

Water used: 793,628 gallons—enough to fill their 3,705-square-foot floor plan to a depth of 28.5 feet.

Previous ranking: No. 6 in 2004

Annual bill: $1,260

"It's not because we're trying to be on the list," says Larry Mendelsohn, of Portland-based Flanders Street Capital. "This list is a good wake-up call, and I hope people take it seriously." Mendelsohn, who pleaded guilty to a felony charge of signing a false tax return in 2003 along with his former partner in Wilshire Capital, Andrew Wiederhorn (see Portland's Top 10, page 19), said some of the use came this year when his sprinklers ran for three days after a valve broke. He didn't report it because "it's not the [water district's] fault. I see no reason to make other ratepayers pay for that." Mendelsohn, whose home was once owned by Blazer Terry Porter, says he's also trying to capture runoff with which to water his lawn.

12. Patrick and Susan Terrell Southwest Military Road, Dunthorpe

Market value: $3.17 million

Lot size: 1.23 acres

Water used: 791,384 gallons—enough water to fill a pool 360 feet long (a football field), 30 feet wide and 10 feet deep.

Annual bill: $1,260

Terrell, an equity and real-estate investor who sits on the advisory board of Aequitas Capital Management and, until earlier this year, sat on the Riverdale School Board, declined comment. In 1977, Terrell founded Byte Shops Northwest, an early computer store chain, which he sold in 1984. A gargantuan angel's trumpet plant sat in a planter at the center of his home's circular drive. A small fountain burbled on the patio.

13. Farouk and Elaine Al-Hadi Summit Court, Lake Oswego

Market value: $1.95 million

Lot size: .36 acre

Water used: 789,140 gallons—enough to brew a pot of coffee every morning for nearly three millennia.

Annual bill: $1,230

Farouk Al-Hadi, a developer who runs Farouk H Al-Hadi & Associates in Lake Oswego, did not respond to requests for comment.

14. Daniel and Sandi Wilkens Goodall Road, Lake Oswego

Market Value: $1.57 million

Lot size: .43 acre

Water used: 735,284 gallons—if it were dog food, it would be enough to fill a 50-pound bag per month for 10,232 years.

Annual bill: $1,150

Daniel Wilkens, who describes himself as a self-employed investor, says Rehea, the family's 5-year-old Siberian Husky, dug up the sprinkler system in the back yard. "God knows how long that thing was going before we discovered it," he says. "I think that had a lot to do with the high water usage. We just shut that section down. There's nothing really growing back there." Wilkens says the family also has a pool and up to five people living in the house, including his mother-in-law, who comes to help out with their newborn.

Drowning In Data

Finding the area's biggest water wasters isn't easy: Two dozen separate agencies provide tap water in the metro area. We asked many of them to provide us with a list of their top residential water users for the period July 1, 2005, through June 30, 2006.

Two large districts stonewalled us. Clackamas did not return our phone messages or email; last time, they denied our request, saying their software was too antiquated to produce the records.

The other district, Sunrise, which serves Happy Valley, refused to turn over a list of users, citing a law passed during the last legislative session in response to WW's past "Hydro Hogs" installments.

In fact, a bill was brought on behalf of the Special Districts Association of Oregon. Its primary sponsors were Rep. Jeff Barker (D-Aloha) and Sens. Roger Beyer (R-Molalla) and Doug Whitsett (R-Klamath Falls). Early versions would have created an exemption to public records laws to prevent the release of "personally identifiable" information about water customers, making it impossible for WW to do this story.

SDAO government affairs director Hasina Squires says the association pushed the bill after furious customers pressed their districts to restrict personal information.

Thanks to the efforts of a few legislators, notably state Sen. Ginny Burdick (D-Portland), the bill was amended to keep sensitive information, like Social Security and driver's license numbers, private, but it allowed continued release of customers' addresses.

Burdick pointed to WW's "Hydro Hogs" series as a reason to continue access to information about use of the public resources.

"It got people's attention about saving water," she says. "We have to be very, very careful with exemptions to the public records laws."

Kim Anderson, who oversees conservation and public outreach for Sunrise, nevertheless denied the public the information, thus appearing to violate the letter of the law. Her rationale: The district feared the information might be used by "eco-terrorists" and interpreted the law to exclude addresses because they could identify individual users.

When we gathered our list of top users from Portland, Gresham, Milwaukie, Beaverton, Tualatin Valley, Palatine Hill, Hillsboro and Lake Oswego, we tried to contact everyone on the list for comment. We sent letters to each of the addresses, visited many of the homes and tried to reach the owners by phone at home and at work.

We gave a pass to anyone whose high usage was due to a plumbing leak—but only if they reported the leak to their water district. Users who report leaks can often get full or partial refunds.

—ID

Be a Water-Saving Commando

WW presents some tips for winning the war against water waste, from the smallest skirmishes to the toughest battles.

Pvt. Judy Benjamin's no-duh tips

• Fix leaky faucets and fixtures inside and out.

• Compost instead of using the garbage disposal.

• Aim sprinklers so they don't water the sidewalk or driveway.

• Shorten your shower by a minute.

• When you use a faucet, don't turn it on full blast.

• If you drop ice cubes while filling your glass or have some left over from your take-out drink, put them in a house plant's pot instead of the sink.

Col. Walter Kurtz's slightly inconvenient savers

• Wash fruits and veggies in a pan rather than running the tap—then use the water on houseplants.

• Install efficient shower heads and toilets.

• Use only one drinking glass per day or a water bottle.

• Make sure your commercial carwash recycles water.

• Turn off the water while you brush your teeth, shave, wash your hands and shampoo.

• Wash your pets on a dry spot in the lawn.

• Put a jar or other container in your toilet tank to displace some water.

John Rambo's hardcore campaign

• Keep a bucket with you in the shower and use the water it catches to flush toilets and water plants.

• Always practice the if-it's-yellow-let-it-mellow philosophy.

• Collect water from your roof to water your garden.

• Never bathe alone.

• Reuse water from cooked or steamed foods in other foods, such as soups, or to water your lawn.

• Shave and brush your teeth as you shower. —ID

 
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