The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously today to crack down on the area’s biggest water users.

Councilman Paul Koretz led the push after a Reveal investigation found that the state’s largest known residential water user lived in his district. This Bel Air customer pumped 11.8 million gallons in a 12-month period, records show – enough for 90 families.

“I’m taking responsibility for the extravagant and embarrassing water use in my district,” he said.

The motion orders the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to report back to the council within 30 days on ways to rein in excessive use among its biggest customers. It requires the agency to explore imposing “severe financial penalties” or even shutting off the water.

At the meeting, Koretz cited our reporting, which found that 92 of the top 100 water guzzlers in the state are in Los Angeles, mostly in exclusive neighborhoods on the city’s west side. A top water official appeared to be puzzled by the mega-users in his midst.

“It is very difficult to explain how they can possibly be using that much water,” Marty Adams, senior assistant general manager of the water system, told the City Council. “We want to get inside the walls and check that out.”

Adams said the city has written to the top 1 percent of water users – a total of about 4,600 letters – as part of its ongoing conservation efforts during the drought, but he noted: “Clearly, not everyone is getting the message.” He pledged that the agency will make recommendations on how the city’s water conservation ordinance should be changed to address the problem.

The Reveal investigation has sparked a public outcry in Los Angeles. A volunteer “drought posse” has been trying to identify the mystery mega-user using satellite maps and even a drone. But so far, no luck. The water agency has declined to identify the big guzzlers, citing privacy concerns.

The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board has since called on the state Legislature to do away with a law that allows water agencies to withhold the names of its largest users.

At the City Council meeting, Koretz displayed a giant, gray trash can and two coffee cups to illustrate the contrast between the biggest guzzler in the state and the typical California home.

He suggested that homes using over a million gallons a year could see their rates go up 10 times. And those using 5 million gallons could get their water capped and shut off if they ignore a warning letter.

The water agency will report back to the council with its recommendations.

Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal. She's also been a senior writer for Salon and Fast Company. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, Slate and on NPR's "All Things Considered."

Her coverage has won national awards, including the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award two years in a row, an Online News Association Award, a Webby Award and a Society of Environmental Journalists Award. Mieszkowski has a bachelor's degree from Yale University. She is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Lance Williams is a senior reporter for Reveal, focusing on money and politics. He has twice won journalism’s George Polk Award – for medical reporting while at The Center for Investigative Reporting, and for coverage of the BALCO sports steroid scandal while at the San Francisco Chronicle. With partner Mark Fainaru-Wada, Williams wrote the national bestseller “Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports.” In 2006, the reporting duo was held in contempt of court and threatened with 18 months in federal prison for refusing to testify about their confidential sources on the BALCO investigation. The subpoenas were later withdrawn. Williams’ reporting also has been honored with the White House Correspondents’ Association’s Edgar A. Poe Award; the Gerald Loeb Award for financial reporting; and the Scripps Howard Foundation’s Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment. He graduated from Brown University and UC Berkeley. He also worked at the San Francisco Examiner, the Oakland Tribune and the Daily Review in Hayward, California. Williams is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.