Albuquerque residents got the drought message, using less water this year than they have in the past three decades, according to a report from Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility to state regulators.
The 25.3 billion gallons pumped by the water utility through the end of September was 6 percent below the same period in 2012.
“Our customers have just done a fabulous job,” water utility conservation officer Katherine Yuhas told the agency’s board of directors Wednesday evening. “The drought really got everyone’s attention.”
The last time Albuquerque water use was this low was 1983, when the city’s population was a little more than half what it is today, according to Yuhas.
The bulk of the savings came during the rainy months of July through September, which saw record-setting storms. But even before that, 2013 usage was below 2012.
“This is a remarkable year,” Yuhas said in an interview Wednesday. “I don’t think this will happen again next year.”
Albuquerque’s reduced water use during the drought of recent years is consistent with other major cities where drought aroused public consciousness about water use, according to Michael Cohen of the Pacific Institute, a water policy think tank.
“There’s certainly a lot of examples from other areas,” said Cohen, who is based in Boulder, Colo.
Cohen cited San Diego and Denver, along with cities in Australia and Israel, as similar examples in which community water use behavior changed during droughts.
However, Cohen agreed with Yuhas that Albuquerque should not expect to see similar declines next year. The experience of other cities, he said, suggests the steep usage decline seen this year won’t be repeated again next year, but neither did he expect backsliding, noting evidence from other communities that a lot of the water conservation activities caused by the drought will be permanent.
“It creates long-term behavioral changes,” Cohen said.
Despite the weather drying up in October, water use this month is well below October 2012, according to Yuhas.
The conservation also is reflected in reduced per capita usage. Last year’s overall water usage in both home and commercial settings was 148 gallons per person per day, and the utility set a goal of reaching 135 gallons per person per day by 2022. This year, we are already on pace to use just 140 gallons per person per day – more than halfway to the new goal in less than a year, according to Yuhas.
“We’ve made a huge stride toward that,” Yuhas said.
Despite the big drop in water usage in the past three months, the water utility’s revenue for July through September is $4 million above the same period last year because of a rate increase that took effect July 1, according to agency spokesman David Morris.
The conservation appears to involve both indoor and outdoor water use, according to Yuhas.