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Turning down the spigot

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

Thanks to more rain, snow and conservation efforts, Albuquerque-area residents cut their total water use last year to a level not seen since the early 1980s.

And when broken down on a per capita basis, they set the record with an all-time low of 127 gallons per day. That’s down 7 gallons from 2014.

wateruseKatherine Yuhas, the conservation officer for the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, said the utility’s water production in 2015 was 30.7 billion gallons.

“The last time overall water use was this low was in 1982,” Yuhas said. That’s especially impressive when you consider that the Albuquerque population in 1982 was about 366,000 and that the water utility serves more than 658,000 people today.

In dry years and wet ones, area residents have been on a general downward path for two decades when it comes to water use.

But Mother Nature gave an assist in 2015.

Albuquerque’s total precipitation in 2015 was 11.49 inches, more than 2 inches above average for the city.

“When you combine good rainfall with good conservation habits, good things happen,” Yuhas said. “Certainly the rain helps, but the rain alone doesn’t save water. People save water. The people of Albuquerque are being vigilant about their water use, adopting water-saving technologies, reducing the amount of turf in their yards and just doing a phenomenal job of saving water.”

Maggie Hart Stebbins, chairwoman of the water authority board, said 2015’s record-low usage shows the community is making great strides in preserving our aquifer as a drought reserve for future generations.

“It extends our water resources for decades,” Yuhas said. “That’s the real goal of conservation.”

The peak per capita daily water usage was 251 gallons in 1995, the year Albuquerque introduced water-conservation measures. It dropped to 239 gallons per capita in 1996 and has declined, with occasional spikes of a few gallons, in the 20 years since then.

Yuhas said the 127-gallon-per-person figure does not mean that’s how much water each person uses daily.

“We get that figure by taking the total production in gallons, divided by the population served, divided by 365,” she said. “But that includes water used in parks, businesses, hospitals. It includes the 4 to 5 percent of the water that leaks out of pipes before it gets to your house.”

She said the normal Albuquerque water user expends 58 gallons per day when usage is averaged out over a year.

Yuhas said the early years of Albuquerque conservation efforts concentrated on education, helping people understand there was not an unlimited supply of water floating beneath the city.

“It was letting people know that they shouldn’t be turning the sink on and walking around the house while the water is running,” she said.

Techniques, such as the water by the numbers program, which advises people on how often to water their lawns during different times of the year, have been introduced over the years.

“Water by the numbers has made a big difference in saving water,” Yuhas said. “It’s not a mandatory program, so we appreciate our customers because of that.”

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