Santa Fe’s water usage hits another new low

SANTA FE, N.M. — Santa Fe’s per capita water usage, which has gained national recognition as being among the lowest in the country, again has plummeted to a new low.

Alan Hook, a water resources analyst with the city, said at a meeting of the City Council’s Public Utilities Committee earlier this month that Santa Fe’s per capita water usage was down to 90 gallons per day in 2015.

That’s a drop from 95 gallons per person per day the previous year – the first time Santa Fe went below the 100-gallon mark in this calculation of water consumption – and represents a reduction of nearly 16 percent just since 2011.

That’s when Santa Fe and other cities in New Mexico switched to a new method for calculating per capita use that was developed by the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer.

Albuquerque, which also has shown significant reductions in water use, had a consumption rate of 127 gallons per person per day for 2015. A New York Times article last year contrasted Santa Fe’s water use with that of Fresno, Calif., which was using 222 gallons per day per person in 2014.

Before 2011, Santa Fe and other cities used a different method for determining per capita water use, but city and state officials agree the State Engineer’s method developed in 2009 is more accurate and also provides a consistent measure for comparisons among New Mexico jurisdictions. The old method generally put Santa Fe’s usage somewhat higher than the State Engineer’s calculation.

Hook attributed some of the continuing reduction in water usage to Santa Fe’s tiered water rate system where residents who use less water are charged less per gallon and those who use more water pay more, implemented with a phased-in series of rate increases that ended in 2013.

“I do think that was in part due to water rates,” he said.

But Hook also said that trading water customers with the county may have something to do with the most recent drop.

When City Councilor Joseph Maestas asked why annexation of approximately 12,000 new residents in 2014 didn’t seem to be reflected in the numbers, Hook said the city actually experienced a net loss in water customers after the annexation. He said customers in the upscale suburban communities Las Campanas and La Tierra northwest of town were transferred to the county.

“That may be why the water use went down,” he said. “Nothing against those residents, but they were some of our highest water users.”

The method for calculating per capita water use developed by the State Engineer’s office takes into account factors such as census data on average household size, the number of single-family residential and multi-family or apartment water connections and vacancy rates

Caryn Grosse, the city’s water conservation specialist, said city water staffers weren’t expecting such a big drop between 2014 and 2015.

“I think it’s combinations of many different things,” she said, noting that per capita consumption has continued to go down, even without more water rate increases since 2013.

Santa Fe had a wet summer last year, a big factor in holding down residential water use. Also, the city continues to promote its rebates for installation of new, more water-efficient appliances like washing machines and toilets, and for things like rain barrels and catchment systems, as well as just generally pushing the conservation message, advertising, and events aimed at both adults and children.

“It’s definitely impressive how good Santa Feans have become at conserving water,” said Grosse.

“I don’t know of another city with numbers as low as ours,” said the city water division’s Rick Carpenter.