ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – For years, Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority has been asking residents to conserve water. You probably remember hearing that you should turn off the tap, water your lawn during certain times, or install low-flow toilets. The water authority says this has helped, but there’s more that could be done, especially when it comes to the city’s biggest users.
“There’s a lot more potential,” says Carlos Bustos, the water conservation program manager for the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority. The goal, he says, is to expand the reach of the city’s recycled-water plumbing, so that more sites can have recycled water, rather than just fresh water.
As it stands, only sites close enough to the Water Authority’s Southside Water Reclamation Plant have access to large volumes of recycled water. Big water users in the northeast part of Albuquerque, or on the west side, are largely reliant on using drinkable water or water coming right out of the river.
To find out who the city’s top users are, KRQE News 13 filed a public records request for usage data of over 200,000 water meters serviced by the Water Authority. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some of the biggest users were industrial companies and golf courses. But what might surprise you is just how much non-recycled water they use.
One of the big users, for example, is Arroyo Del Oso Golf Course, which is managed by the city. The Water Authority supplied over 200 million gallons of water to the site from November 2020 through October 2021. That’s enough to fill more than 300 Olympic swimming pools or supply more than 2,000 houses.
And that water supplied to Arroyo Del Oso was a mix of drinkable water as well as water directly from the Rio Grande. None of the 200 million gallons was recycled.
The same goes for many of the large developments, golf courses, and sites that use water throughout Albuquerque. Paradise Hills Golf Course used more than 88 million gallons of non-recycled water from November 2020 through October 2021, the data shows. Some industrial facilities near the north end of town used over 50 million gallons during that period as well — again, none of that is recycled.
KRQE News 13 reached out to some of the city’s largest water users. We were unable to get comments from the industrial users we contacted, such as Sumco, a computer component company, or General Mills. Both of those companies recently used more than 50 million gallons of water a year, the data shows.
John Bailey, the owner of Paradise Hills Golf Course, told KRQE News 13 that water conservation is important and that they’ve been taking steps to help save water. The Water Authority has been part of that conservation work.
“In the four years that we have owned the golf course, we have xeriscaped hundreds of thousands of square feet,” Bailey said in an email. “In 2022 [we] completed a pond renovation project that we feel will save in excess of 4,000,000 gallons of water a year.”
Tanoan County Club is another big water user according to data. Doug Wayne, the general manager for Tanoan Country Club, says they have worked with the Water Authority and have taken steps to cut down on water use.
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Tanoan Country Club is over 10 miles away from the Water Authority’s Southside Water Reclamation Plant. So, they don’t have immediate access to recycled water. Instead, they’ve had to get creative, letting some areas dry out and looking at using satellite technology to reduce water use.
Wayne pointed out a non-playable portion of Tanoan’s golf course that they’ve let turn dry in an effort to cut down on water. And he says they are installing an irrigation satellite system that will allow the club to pinpoint exactly how much water the grass needs to avoid overwatering.
Another heavy-use site that has cut down on the amount of non-recycled water they use is the ABQ BioPark. They’ve come up with creative ways to conserve water.
“We have 1.3 million toilet flushes alone every year, but there are several places in the BioPark where we’re reclaiming water and making sure that we use it more than once,” explains Bob Lee, the associate director for the ABQ BioPark. “Folks that visit the lakes at Tingley may not know that that water goes out to the Bosque for habitat restoration, which creates suitable habitats for all sorts of wildlife. The big ponds at Japanese Garden, that water is reclaimed to feed the bamboo gardens, and those bamboo plants are then fed out to the animals at the zoo.”
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The Zoo is relatively close to the Southside Water Reclamation Plant, but isn’t yet connected to the Water Authority’s reuse plumbing. To cut down on water, they’ve taken other measures, such as letting some water features run dry.
Still, across the city, big users have an outside impact. Bustos from the Water Authority says a minority of the Water Authority’s accounts make up the majority of the city’s water usage.
“80% of our customer base are single family, residential — what that means is regular homes, be it with one person or five or six people living in the home. And 52% of our demand goes out to this sector,” he says. That means the other 20% of users, including the golf courses, industrial users, and parks, are using far more than 20% of the water.
Bustos says it’s still important for individual homes to consider their water use. But if the city can make even small changes for the biggest users, the impact will be huge.
“Most of us — the residential — have done the most to conserve water in the last 25 years. And that’s why a big focus of mine is on the large users,” he says. “Now I’m trying to move the needle to attract some of those large users, because one percent reuse at my house, it’s good. But one percent reused in the Parks and Recreation Department, it can be 400 million gallons.”
Bustos from the Water Authority says so far, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department alone has saved almost 300 million gallons in the last five years by doing things like upgrading irrigation systems or changing watering practices. And currently, Water Authority’s Southside Water Reclamation Plant does supply recycled water to some city properties, such as the Puerto Del Sol Golf Course. The Airport was also recently hooked up to the supply.
But a map supplied by the Water Authority shows that the pipes don’t go much further north than about Lead and Coal Avenues. Ultimately, the goal is to expand that.
“We just finished and completed our reuse five-year plan,” Bustos says. “Our goal is to have a reuse line that crosses and transverses the entire city and service area, so we can add more customers to the base.”
In the meantime, he says that small and large users can continue to cut down on water use. The Water Authority offers a $2-per-square foot rebate to homeowners and commercial customers who replace grass with xeriscaping.