Who’s Got Their Straws in Albuquerque?
The biggest H20 hogs
Most people are not thrilled to discover the Water Authority says they’re among the top water users in our desert metropolis. It’s been an exciting couple of weeks.
But as reporter Simon McCormack and I set out to inform residents and larger entities that their twisty straws are sucking the lifeblood from Burque’s heart, we were met most often with shock. We had no idea, they’d say.
One hundred and sixty-one gallons per person per day. That’s the annual per capita usage for 2008—the total amount of water used divided by population—according to the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority. The No. 1 water user in Albuquerque, city-run Arroyo del Oso Golf Course, chugged on average 926,290 gallons every day in June. About 5,753 people could have lived off that water for a day. The usage goal for 2009 is 159 gallons per person per day.
Except Arroyo del Oso uses non-potable water, which is recycled industrial effluent blended with lightly treated river water from a system on the north side of town. Non-potable water is only an option for irrigation. On the list of the top 10 water users in Albuquerque and Bernalillo, only three use non-potable H20. The Water Authority is planning to put more non-potable systems on the south and west sides of Albuquerque.
In the ’90s, the city discovered it was resting atop about half as much water as it once thought [“Pour Me a River,” Dec. 25-31, 2008]. If our water consumption doesn’t slow, it’s thought that in 35 years, pockets of land will sink as the underground water supply is sucked dry. At the end of 2008, the San Juan-Chama Drinking Water Project got off the ground after many years of planning, which means some of what comes out of your faucet is from the Rio Grande. Conservation is a big part of making this new water scheme work.
The Water Authority puts water users into six categories: city, multi-family, institutional, industrial, commercial and residential. McCormack took on visiting the homes of top residential wasters [see “Thirsty Neighbors”] while I tackled the No. 1 potable water users in their categories.
The No. 1 guzzlers of the region’s precious agua
Commercial: Tanoan Country Club and Golf Course
Dramatic views, undulating fairways and extensive water hazards are among the features advertised on Tanoan Country Club's golf course web page. Those 27 holes and the surrounding acres of mostly Poa grass put the club at the top of the Water Authority’s commercial water users list. It sucked up more than a hundred million gallons of Albuquerque's H20 in the last 12 months. Country club General Manager Bill Gaspard says he had no idea Tanoan clocked in so high. "I don't believe the data,” he says, “but ... ."
"My first reaction would be, Well, gosh. We don't want to be No. 1. That's not the top list we want to be on."
Gaspard adds that most of the water is used to quench the thirst of the golf greens. "We're one of the bigger golf courses in the area and definitely one of the biggest country clubs." Tanoan has "all kinds" of conservation measures in place, Gaspard says, but he wouldn’t elaborate on what they were. The superintendent of maintenance didn’t return phone calls.
Is Gaspard concerned about the club's water use or bill? "No. Are you?" he asks. The amount of water Tanoan is using for a golf course is absolutely reasonable, he adds, and he doesn't know of any broken pipes or leaks on the property. He's not sure of the course's size. The club and course employ 150 people.
City: Rio Grande Zoo
The city-run Arroyo del Oso golf course uses about twice as much H20 as the zoo, but the golf course uses non-potable water. The zoo drained away 102,661,504 gallons in the last 12 months, and that number doesn’t include the other BioPark features—the Aquarium, Tingley Beach and the Botanic Garden.
Rick Janser, BioPark director, says zoo employees wash down animal exhibits every day in accordance with USDA requirements. "We can't use non-potable around the animals," he says. "It has to be pristine and treated." But the real problem, he says, is human bathroom use. "When you have over 1.2 million people through here each year, that's a lot of flushing." Most of the toilets are low-flow, but the zoo hasn't been able to convert all of them yet. The zoo would like to use its main pond to irrigate the grassy field in front of the band shell, but the plumbing hasn't been completed. Janser can’t guess when that project will be finished because, he says, it depends on how the fiscal year plays out.
All landscaping water moves through low-flow sprinkler heads and drip irrigation systems, he says. A green team evaluates the zoo and assesses waste. The zoo recycles cardboard, and animal waste goes to a composting facility. "We've done audits to see where we can save on water," he says. "It costs a little bit of money to retrofit, but we're slowly chipping away at it."
The zoo was built in the late ’20s and early ’30s, he adds. "Every so often you get pipe bursts. We had one a couple weekends ago in the parking lot. It was an old line that finally gave way. We are able to isolate them fairly quickly, but by the time it percolates to the surface, you've gone through quite a bit of water."
The zoo spans about 63 acres, he estimates, and maintains 120 permanent workers along with 60 seasonal summer employees.
Perhaps the vaguest of the Water Authority’s categories, this one encompasses places such as Expo New Mexico (No. 7), Del Norte High School (No. 10), University Hospital (No. 3) and Presbyterian Hospital (No. 6). At the top of the list, though, is Lovelace on Martin Luther King Jr. near I-25, which is combined with the St. Joseph Square campus on its water bill.
Spokesperson Debra Hammer says Lovelace follows all city- and county-wide restrictions on watering, and a chiller replacement project is in the works that will cut down on the amount used for cooling. "Plans are in place to replace much of the antiquated equipment that uses a lot of water."
Lovelace has put $200 million in the last five years toward upgrading all of its facilities for patient care, she adds, but putting in a new pipeline for non-potable water "is a major capital expense, and conventional wisdom on water conservation plans is to start with the most obvious and lowest-cost options."
There was a slight increase in water use for Lovelace from 2008 to 2009. A water line break at the rehabilitation hospital may have contributed.
Lovelace employs 1,200 people at the two billed locations, and the combined area is about 400,000 square feet.
Multi-Family: Towne Park Homeowners Association
It's a name familiar to the news desk at the Alibi. We've written about Towne Park—the 486-home gated community near Eubank and I-40—for years. Residents bicker. Lawsuits ensue. And the two large parks on the property required 50,199,776 gallons of water in the last 12 months. The water bill for the parks is prorated to the residents, who each pay an additional $175 or $200 per household ["Strife in Suburbia," May 4-10, 2006]. Residents cover the water costs of their yards and homes on individual meters as well, according to Janice Jensen, Community Association manager for Towne Park. Homeowners don't pay for xeriscaped yards.
Though Jensen set up an interview, she had to cancel because the board of directors felt no comment was the best policy given the legal issues surrounding water and irrigation.
Kim Trinosky is the facilities manager at Honeywell (though officially he's a subcontractor with Jones Lang LaSalle). He's not surprised at all that Honeywell is the biggest water user on the Water Authority’s industrial list. "That's probably because Intel's in Rio Rancho," he says. "Philips Semiconductor held that spot in Albuquerque for many moons before it shut down."
Honeywell chugged 18,272,892 gallons of water last year, though Trinosky says that wasn't used to clean any of the products the company produces. Instead, he says, water is primarily used to irrigate the landscaping. "The rest of it is basically restrooms and kitchen-type cafeteria dishwashers and that type of thing."
Trinosky says the company's implemented a measuring system on all main water sources so it knows how much it's using in each area. All toilet fixtures are low-flow, he says. The facility in Albuquerque takes up 537,214 square feet and employs around 1,100 people.
Top 10 Water Users in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County*Uses reclaimed non-potable water
This information is a matter of public record and was provided by the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority.
Wait, the Reclamation Plant Is on the List?
Yup. It’s actually the sewage treatment plant. “That’s where all the sewage of the city of Albuquerque goes for treatment,” says David Morris, spokesperson for the Water Authority. “At the end of the process, water comes out the other end and goes into the river. It’s clean water at that point that meets federal regulatory standards for being put back into the environment.”
But in a catch-22, it takes clean water to make clean water. Morris says sewage treatment is a water-intensive operation because there are so many surfaces in the plant that have to be cleaned. “To keep equipment and receptacles clean, and also to cool the machinery, requires a lot of water.” The plant sucked down less water in the past because a recycling system allowed it to use non-potable water for all of that cleaning. “It’s a self-contained system there on site at the plant,” he says. “However, I’m told that system went down at some point during the year and required repairs, so we ended up using more potable water than we normally would.”