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Leaks in the Water Authority

By Sean Olson
Copyright © 2008 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

          Priority No. 1 for the city-county Water Utility Authority: conserve water.
        Perhaps it just forgot to tell water board member Tim Cummins.
        Cummins used 942,480 gallons of water at his Tanoan home in 2007, nearly nine times the average use for a residential home in Albuquerque, according to water authority numbers.
        The usage ranked him sixth among the biggest residential water users last year.
        Cummins said Monday that he is taking "aggressive action" to figure out where all the water went and correct the problem. He said three major leaks at his home in the past year may have contributed, but he suspects that large amounts of water are still escaping from somewhere within his water system.
        "There is absolutely no way I consumed that much water," Cummins said.
        Cummins' home has already reached 786,896 gallons this year, putting him on pace to use far more than he used in 2007, according to water authority numbers.
        He said he noticed the high monthly bills but didn't have a clue as to how much water he was using because water bills measure usage in units, not gallons. One unit is equal to 748 gallons. Cummins said he knew he was having problems when at least one of his bills reached over $400 for a month.
        "I just didn't realize the scope of the water usage," he said.
        Cummins said he follows conservation tips, such as using drip irrigation where possible, not refilling his pool in years and following the water authority's watering suggestions. "That's why I'm so shocked," he said.
        The water board is made up of three county commissioners, three city councilors and a delegate from the Mayor's Office.
        Water board Chairwoman Deanna Archuleta, who used about 65,000 gallons at her house last year, said the authority was asked by Cummins to do an audit of how much water is used in which areas at his home.
        She said Cummins has taken the correct approach to fixing the problem, but the problem does need to be fixed.
        "Absolutely, it's important to lead by example," she said.
        Water conservation officer Katherine Yuhas said Monday that the average usage per year in homes with irrigation systems is between 120,000 and 140,000 gallons. When all homes in the city are included, average use drops to about 100,000 gallons, she said.
        Cummins would either have to have an "enormous" number of outdoor plants or leaks to use that much water in a year, Yuhas said, but the water use would almost have to be outside the house.
        "No matter how many toilets you have inside, you can't use them enough to get that high (usage)," she said.
        Cummins said he does have a large lawn, a fountain and a pool. The pool is filled using water trucked onto his property, not from his own meter, he said.
        A letter suggesting that Cummins check for leaks on his property was sent out from the water authority in January, after Cummins used 195,000 gallons in a month, Yuhas said. Cummins said his neighbor accidentally broke his water line during that time, and it was fixed.
        His usage dropped to about 30,000 gallons in February, suggesting that any leaks had been fixed, Yuhas said. Cummins' use has grown every month since February, eventually reaching 174,284 gallons this month.