Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Last year was warmer and drier than normal in New Mexico, but that didn’t stop Albuquerque residents from using less water. In 2019, water use in the metro area was 121 gallons of water per capita per day, about 700 million total fewer gallons than 2018.
That’s an all-time low, according to the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority.
In 2018, metro area water use was 125 gallons per capita per day.
Albuquerque and Bernalillo County parks alone used 200 million gallons less water in 2019 than the year before, according to Carlos Bustos, conservation program manager for the water authority, who called the record-low water use a “great success story.”
“Our previous conservation programs focused on indoor water efficiency and now we’re moving more to outdoor water efficiency,” Bustos said. “It’s about changing the culture and the overall approach to how we water our landscapes.”
Total rainfall in Albuquerque in 2019 was about 10 inches, which is about half an inch below normal.
The water authority encourages customers to check their irrigation systems to avoid leaks. Following seasonal water recommendations is also key to conserving water.
The utility’s 505outside.com website offers advice for choosing desert-friendly plants and adjusting irrigation times throughout the year.
Water use in Albuquerque has dropped steadily since 1994, when customers were using 252 gallons per person per day. Per capita water use is calculated by dividing total yearly water use by population served, and then dividing that number by 365.
The water authority created its first conservation programs in the mid-1990s. Albuquerque residents were encouraged to replace old toilets, dishwashers and washing machines, and learned about saving water in a desert environment.
Those programs have paid off, with Albuquerque often recognized as one the best water conservation cities in the West.
“We can offer all the educational information we want, but we wouldn’t achieve these water reduction goals if our customers didn’t respond, so this really is a pat on the back for all our customers who save water,” Bustos said.
Rebate programs that reduce water bill payments in exchange for installing water-saving technology also helped 2019 break water-saving records.
One rebate program helped replace 500,000 square feet of water-intensive turf with xeriscape last year. As part of the utility’s Tree-Bate program, customers planted 1,000 low-water use trees in 2019, making a total of 3,500 desert-adapted trees planted in the past three years.
In March, the utility will start a WaterSmart Academy to continue the water-saving trend. The free training will educate professional landscape companies about the latest water conservation practices.
Reducing per capita water use is part of the utility’s Water 2120 plan to address Albuquerque’s future water needs. The goal is for per capita water use to be 110 gallons per day by 2037.
Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.