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          Front Page




Aerial Attack on Water Use

By Sean Olson
Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
    Officials are launching an aerial attack on high water use in Albuquerque.
    The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority is kicking off a pilot project using aerial photographs and drive-by inspections to identify homes with high water use in the Tanoan and Albuquerque Country Club neighborhoods, said Katherine Yuhas, Water Authority conservation officer.
    People will then be sent a letter outlining tips for lowering water use, she said.
    "The more information (distributed), the better," said City Councilor and Water Board Chairman Martin Heinrich. "In general, I think there are probably a lot of people that have higher water use than they know about."
    Residents can expect to start getting letters in February.
    Officials are hoping such proactive steps will help prevent the kind of water use numbers the city has posted in the last few months. Citywide water use has risen to about 1.1 billion gallons more than this time last year, according to the water authority.
    At the beginning of summer, water use was about a billion gallons less than in 2006, but it has skyrocketed since.
    The 2006 numbers were a record year for savings, but water usage has now also eclipsed 2005 by 70 million gallons, Yuhas said.
    She said water use has been declining over the past six weeks.
    "It just hasn't declined enough," Yuhas said. "I expect we will close that gap as (winter) gets closer."
    The Tanoan and Country Club pilot project is being carried out by water authority contractor Smart Use, LLC.
    Smart Use has a contract of up to $375,000 with the authority to carry out water conservation projects and services.
    Richard Chapman, owner of Smart Use, said the aerial imaging coupled with a computer program will give the water authority a good estimate of how much water-needy grass and vegetation the neighborhoods have.
    Employees will then drive by homes and look at whatever parts of the properties are visible from the street, he said.
    Using that data and the previous year's water usage for the home, a letter will be drafted showing the homeowners how high their water use is and how high it should be, Chapman said.
    The letter will also include tips for lowering water use, rebate offers and the residence's rank compared to others in the neighborhood.
    "For those people who are doing well, it should be quite assuring, an appropriate kind of pat on the back," Chapman said.
    Those with high use will, hopefully, take action to use less water, Yuhas said.
    Heinrich said the proactive approach was better than waiting for severe droughts that often come with punitive measures for high water use.
    "It's better to present someone with solutions," he said.
    Yuhas said the Tanoan and Albuquerque Country Club neighborhoods were chosen because of their high concentrations of grass lawns and historically high water use.
    Water authority officials will meet with neighborhood associations before sending out letters so homeowners are prepared for them.
    If water usage is lowered in the pilot neighborhoods, Yuhas said, the program could expand.
    "We'll go utility-wide and look at other neighborhoods," she said.