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Texas is not alone in facing sustained drought conditions from time to time. Our neighbors in southwestern states have been forced to develop innovative strategies to combat chronic water shortages — strategies that may become common in Texas as well.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque has a population of approximately 500,000 and average rainfall of 9.5 inches. In 1993, scientific studies showed that Albuquerque’s aquifer was being drawn down twice as fast as nature could replenish it. At that time, Albuquerque’s total daily per capita usage was 250 gallons.

In response, the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (ABCWUA) adopted aggressive conservation and education policies. In 2010, the city’s daily per capita usage had fallen by nearly 38 percent, to 157 gallons, and ABCWUA believes the city can reduce this to 150 gallons daily by 2014.

Strategies:

  • In 1995, Albuquerque adopted strict requirements for landscaping in new developments, such as prohibiting the use of high-water-use grasses on more than 20 percent of a landscaped area.
  • Albuquerque provides generous rebates for “xeriscaping” — landscaping reliant on native, drought-tolerant plants. The rebates total 25 cents per square foot of converted landscape area, up to $500 ($700 for commercial landscapes).
  • The city also conducts extensive public education on wise water use, including classes that pay customers $20 to learn about xeriscaping, the types of plants to use and how to care for them. According to the city, attendees reduce their water usage by an average of 28 percent.
  • Albuquerque also requires high-efficiency toilets in all new residential construction. The city offers rebates of up to $100 for high-efficiency toilets and clothes washers.
  • The city offers free water audits and free installation for high-efficiency plumbing devices.
  • Albuquerque also fines residential and commercial customers who waste water. Offenses include allowing sprinklers to water streets or adjacent properties, and overwatering to an extent that causes excessive runoff. The city uses “water cops” to patrol the city, looking for water waste.
  • In 1993, the city embarked on a $400 million project to diversify the city’s water portfolio. Due to this project, completed in 1998, Albuquerque now obtains half of its water from the Colorado River, a share that ultimately may rise to 90 percent.40

Phoenix, Arizona,

Phoenix, with 1.3 million residents and less than eight inches of rain per year, has been forced to adopt extensive water management policies. Since 1998, Phoenix’s per capita water use has declined despite a 15 percent growth rate.

Strategies:

  • Phoenix has diversified its water portfolio, now drawing water from three surface-water sources, one groundwater source, two aquifer storage and recovery projects and water reuse and conservation efforts.
  • Phoenix draws water from both city-run and state-run ASR systems. The city’s has a capacity of 20,000 acre-feet annually, while the state’s ASR project, the Arizona Water Banking Authority (AWBA), has a capacity of more than 3 million acre-feet of Colorado River water for municipal and industrial needs. At present, Phoenix uses 25,000 acre-feet of ABWA water annually.
  • Phoenix treats and reuses about 40 percent of the water it delivers to customers. Most of this water is used for agriculture and reactor cooling at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station.
  • The city relies primarily on rebates and incentives for compliance with its water management policies, but also penalizes water waste through measures such as progressive water rates, which raises the cost of water as you use more. “Water cops” are used to further compliance.41

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe has a population of approximately 100,000 and averages about 12.5 inches of rain annually. A severe two-year drought a decade ago prompted Santa Fe to perform a hydrological study that determined the city’s reliance on ground-water was unsustainable.

Strategies:

  • The city began to diversify its water portfolio and now relies equally on two surface water and two groundwater sources. The two surface-water reservoirs the city added to its portfolio now provide 40 percent of its water.
  • To protect its surface reservoirs, the city engaged in a forest thinning and controlled burning project to help reduce water draws by trees and to prevent forest fires that could threaten the water’s quality.
  • Santa Fe also heavily promotes water conservation with initiatives including xeriscaping, the use of water-efficient appliances and other behavioral changes.
  • The city requires new residential and commercial construction projects to estimate the amount of water they will need, acquire the appropriate water rights and provide them to the city. In other words, allowable growth is directly tied to the amount of water available.
  • The city also relies on water reuse for the irrigation of public green spaces, golf courses and parks.
  • An ASR project stores excess rainfall and surface water in an underground aquifer for future use.42

Tucson, Arizona

Tucson has a population of approximately 520,000 and averages 12.5 inches of rain annually, and began conserving water in earnest in the mid-1980s. At that time, Tucson faced a significant problem with sinkholes, caused by the massive use of groundwater and the inability of aquifers to replenish fast enough.

Strategies:

  • Tucson requires all new homes and commercial construction to use xeriscaping.
  • The city supplies rebates for xeriscaping, water-efficient appliances and rainwater and “grey water” harvesting. Coupled with aggressive public education, these measures have led to significant reductions in per capita usage. Tucson’s per capita daily water usage went from 200 gallons in 1985 to 130 gallons in 2010.
  • Tucson’s use of reclaimed water satisfies 7 percent of its water needs — about 18,000 acre-feet per year. Most golf courses, city parks, schools and some commercial green spaces use reclaimed water for irrigation. An ordinance approved two years ago requires that reclaimed water supply half of all commercial irrigation.43
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