Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Water use has spiked in Albuquerque this year, thanks to a hot, dry summer and the ongoing public health crisis.
The metro area’s water usage is up 1.2 billion gallons from Jan. 1 to July 31 compared with the same time last year, said Carlos Bustos, water conservation program manager for the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority.
In 2019, the utility celebrated its lowest per capita water usage on record. But water use began to spike with this year’s dry spring.
“By February, outdoor usage was already about 200 million gallons higher than in 2019,” Bustos told the ABCWUA board Wednesday. “So far we’ve had at least 11 record-temperature days this summer, and July and August are among the driest in 10 years.”
Water use in Albuquerque is also closely tied to business closures and more people working from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Residential water usage is up 11% this year, while commercial usage is down by 8% compared with last year.
“Our yards have become our outings … so landscapes have become even more valuable for us,” Bustos said. “Given the type of weather we’ve had, folks are doing a lot more landscape work and watering more.”
Cities like Tucson, Las Vegas and San Antonio are experiencing similar pandemic-related water use trends, Bustos said.
But even with the spike in demand, the utility is on track to meet a 2020 water usage goal of 126 gallons per capita, per day.
Overall water use this year is similar to 2018. That year also had a low spring runoff, persistent drought and above-average summer temperatures.
Sporadic rainfall has done little to alleviate drought conditions. Northern New Mexico and the southeastern corner of the state are experiencing the worst drought.
Most of Bernalillo County is in a stage of moderate drought.
The water authority would issue a drought advisory if Bernalillo County enters severe drought status. No mandatory water restrictions would accompany that move, but residents would be encouraged to conserve water.
This year the utility has used school building closures as an opportunity to find and fix water leaks.
“So far we’ve found 73 leaks, with an estimated savings of about 9 million gallons in 23 schools,” Bustos said.
Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.