Tracking down the citizens who use the most water at home
The 10 homes soaking up the most water in all of Bernalillo County, according to the Water Authority, take up real estate in Albuquerque's most affluent neighborhoods, including Tanoan, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, Four Hills, Ridgecrest and the Albuquerque Country Club area. Five are in the far Northeast Heights, with three sheltered in Tanoan proper, and two just outside the neighborhood's gates.
The dwellings the Alibi visited don't look any different from the houses around them. They are typically nestled among sprawling grass lawns and big trees with green plants dotting the perimeter of the front yard. That’s what all the other houses on the block look like, too.
While the average Albuquerque single-family home sucks up 94,248 gallons of agua each year, no house in the top 10 swallowed less a million, according to the authority’s records. The least of these heavy drinkers used more than 11 times as much as Joe Albuquerque.
Residents aren’t fined for using a lot of water, says authority spokesperson David Morris. But if a resident uses significantly more water in the summer than they do in the winter, he or she is subject to a surcharge.
The Alibi tried to get in touch with everyone on the list, but most didn't get back to us. If phone numbers couldn't be tracked down, we went directly to the residences and left a note with contact information asking for comment. The Alibi was denied access to Tanoan by the security guard keeping watch over the gated community.
One of the folks who did want to chat with us was state Sen. John Ryan. His Los Ranchos abode slides into the No. 3 slot on the Water Authority’s list. His household used 1,232,704 gallons of water in the last year.
Within the last month, Ryan says he discovered and fixed a large leak in one of his sprinklers. He adds that his mother-in-law was living with the family and she had a lot of visitors, which drove up the water bill. "We had the washing machine going constantly and the dishwasher going constantly," he says. "It was almost like we had a full household of caretakers, family members and just everybody." Under normal circumstances, there are three people living in Ryan's home.
He also contends that cracks in the pipes of his swimming pool require constant vigilance. He says replacing the pipes is prohibitively expensive. The lawn at the Ryan residence is green and luscious. He says he has to keep a grass yard to conform to the rules of the property association in his Los Ranchos neighborhood.
The senator insists he believes in conservation. "I've always wanted to have somebody come through and give advice on all sorts of water-saving tips to bring the water bill down," he says. "I don't like paying big water bills."
As a lawmaker, he sponsored a measure that created incentives for farmers to conserve water. "Conservation is absolutely important to me," Ryan says.
After he learned his house made the list, Ryan got in touch with Smart Use, a company subcontracted by the Water Authority to help residents lower consumption. A representative came by and found several leaks on his property, which the senator says are now being fixed. Ryan also attended a free seminar put on by Smart Use at Balloon Fiesta Park in July.
The house with the largest bill, according to the Water Authority, belonged to H.L. Galles Jr. He ran the Galles Chevrolet dealership in Albuquerque until he died in 2007. No one lives in his former home, but records show maintaining the property required 1,283,568 gallons of water in the last 12 months. The trustee of the home declined to have her name used in this article and requested we didn’t disclose the address. She says a new sprinkler system has cut water usage by 50 percent.
Carolyn Apodaca says she doesn't know why she and her husband Harry's abode demands so much H20. She says it probably has something to do with her 10,000-square-foot lawn.
She lives in Tanoan, and the community association requires at least 40 percent of a yard be covered with grass. There's an exception for yards 400 square feet or less, but that doesn't apply to the Apodacas. She says a portion of her landscaping is xeric, but that came at a hefty price of several thousand dollars. "We try to cut back on our water usage and then our grass dies," Apodaca says. "We're damned if we do and damned if we don't."
Even though her lawn requires frequent refreshment, Apodaca says she still can't believe her house came in 10th on the Water Authority’s list, using 1,074,128 gallons in the last year. "Holy mackerel!"
Richard Chapman, Smart Use owner, says neighborhoods that have the most work to do are grass-heavy and were established many decades ago when gargantuan lawns were the norm. "They were built in an era when that's how you designed things," he says. "That era is starting to look more and more out of date as time goes on and our water needs become more apparent."
He says many of the people he's talked to in neighborhoods with a lot of grass, such as Tanoan and the Albuquerque Country Club area, are receptive to his conservation message.
One of those people, according to Chapman, is Tanoan Community Association General Manager Beth Brodie. She says every Tanoan newsletter includes information on how to use less water. A few months ago, Brodie invited Chapman to talk to residents about proper irrigation techniques. "Our No. 1 goal is to conserve water," Brodie says. "We're working toward that goal."
Joseph Zmuda, president of the Four Hills Homeowners Association (that neighborhood includes home No. 2 on the Water Authority’s list), says he supports efforts like xeriscaping and other anti-water-wasting measures. But he says the city unfairly attacks residents who use a lot of water while enticing more people to move to Albuquerque and use its resources. "The hypocrisy of government when it comes to water conservation is absolutely unbelievable," Zmuda says. "They're encouraging people to move in, but as soon as you start using our water, you're a bad guy."
Morris of the Water Authority, which is independent of the city, says the goal is not to bully residents. "We don't wish to single anyone out for embarrassment," Morris says. "But the usage data speaks for itself."