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Santa Fe continues to cut water usage

SANTA FE, N.M. — A measure of water use by Santa Feans increased by three gallons per day from 2016 to 2017, but it comes with an asterisk.

City officials say the increase in the city’s gallons per capita per day (GPCD) from 87 to 90 is due to an overestimation of the city’s population in previous years, which resulted in a calculation of lower usage numbers per resident.

“The GPCD did not really go up for 2017, in fact it stayed pretty constant,” says a recent memo to the City Council’s Public Utilities Committee from Christine Chavez, a city water conservation manager.

The city is required to submit an annual per-capita water usage report to the Office of the State Engineer to satisfy obligations related to water rights permits.

Chavez explained that, in recent years, the number used for Santa Fe’s population was 87,474, which was based on U.S. Census data and was meant to take into account annexation of county property in 2014 that increased the city’s population by about 13,000 people.

But the Census Bureau, after its American Community Survey in 2016, came up with an updated, reduced population total of 83,878 for 2017, “which is a more accurate estimate,” Chavez wrote. Dividing the lower population number into total water use resulted in slightly higher per-capita water usage numbers.

Santa Fe’s low per-capita water usage allows the city to put some water from city reservoirs into the Santa Fe River, such as the 2 cubic feet per second flow from earlier this week shown here. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Still, 90 gallons per capita per day is a long way from 1995, when Santa Fe took over the city water utility from PNM and the per capita average was 168 gallons per day. A 2015 New York Times article contrasted Santa Fe’s success in reducing its water use with that of Fresno, Calif., which was using 222 gallons per day per person the year before.

The 90 gallons per day is also a pretty good number compared to Albuquerque’s GPCD of 127, Las Cruces’ 165 and Santa Rosa’s nearly 200.

“The city is proud of its water conservation program and the success we’ve had,” Caryn Grosse, a water conservation specialist for the city, said in an interview this week. “We’re not just saving water, but we’re using it in ways that make our lives better.”

The city has incentive and rebate programs aimed helping residents switch over to more modern and efficient household equipment. It is also nearly finished with a citywide initiative to replace old water meters with smart meters that can provide homeowners and businesses with real-time daily water usage information and leak alerts through use of a free app, EyeOnWater.

Grosse said that the city paid out nearly $103,000 from rebate programs in 2017 for the installation of 700 water-saving WaterSence-labeled toilets, 85 more efficient, new clothes washers, and a small number of rain barrels and cisterns. In all, the equivalent of about 6.8 acre-feet of water, or roughly 2.22 million gallons, was saved through rebate programs, the city says.

There are also rebates for the use of rain and soil moisture sensors on irrigation equipment, installation of a “Laundry to Landscape” gray water system that diverts water from clothes washers to plants and trees, and for the installation of rain barrels that collect water runoff from the roofs of buildings and cisterns used to store rainwater.

Grosse said a household using 45 gallons per week indoors doing laundry can use that much watering outdoor landscape. “That may not seem like a lot, but a tree, or a couple of rose bushes, would be happy to get that,” she said.

The city’s billing system penalizes heavy water users with higher rates.

Since 2013, the city has used a tiered billing system. Residential rates are set at $6.06 per 1,000 gallons for the first 10,000 gallons each month from May through August. Homes that use more than 10,000 gallons in a month are then charged $21.72 per 1,000 gallons. A different set of rates applies in the low-water-usage winter months.

City government is also targeting the next generation of customers when it comes to the importance of water conservation by hosting an annual Children’s Water Fiesta and programs in schools to teach children about where their water comes from, and how it’s treated and processed for use.

Grosse said that one big reason Santa Fe has such a low water usage compared to other cities is because many people xeriscape their yards.

“People in Santa Fe, quite frankly, are very water-conscious. They don’t use as much landscape irrigation, because there are fewer lawns. That helps,” she said.

“We love our way of life in Santa Fe, and we want to pass it down to successive generations,” Mayor Webber said in a recent news release encouraging residents to participate in the National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation.

“That means making sustainability a part of everything we do, especially where water is involved.”

Mayor trying

These days, Webber is apparently trying to do his part.

Last month – after Webber issued his water conservation challenge news release – the Santa Fe New Mexican reported that Webber and his wife used 357,400 gallons of water at their Upper Canyon Road home in 2017, an average of 980 gallons per day. Between the two of them, that’s a per-capita average of 490 gallons per day, more than five time the city’s average rate.

In a written statement, Webber explained that he lives on 4½ acres of land, with one acre that’s irrigated. That acre has 19 fruit trees, 80 deciduous and evergreen trees, and more than 20 piñon trees, he said.

In response to an inquiry from the Journal, a photograph of the mayor’s latest EyeOnWater report was provided by City Hall. It appears to show that the Webber residence used 5,522 gallons of water over seven days, an average of 789 gallons per day. That was 33 percent less water than the Webbers used the previous seven days when they consumed 8,169 gallons, an average of 1,167 gallons per day.

The city’s public information officer also forwarded an email from Webber that indicates a water expert visited his home and recommended steps the Webbers could take to conserve water. It says multiple leaks were found, with one still to be repaired. The photo from his EyeOnWater report indicates the Webbers were losing 2.0 gallons of water per hour due to leaks.

As for the Mayor’s Challenge, city PIO Matt Ross said the final results will be announced May 21.

Santa Fe water customers can get more information about the rebate programs the city offers for water-effficient appliances or toilets and other water-saving measures at savewatersantafe.com. While there, they also can download the EyeOnWater app to monitor their water usage.

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