Update based on questions on Twitter and in the comments: This number represents all Albuquerque municipal water use – residential, commercial, parks, system losses, etc. Frequently per capita usage numbers quoted are for residential use only, so beware apples-oranges comparisons.
Previously: There were cupcakes on a table by the door at the most recent meeting of the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority: “125 GPCD”.
I have some schtick in my standard water talks: “Albuquerque has, since the mid-1990s, cut its per capita water use nearly in half.” That’s a pretty remarkable thing – a large community cutting its per capita use of a critical resource nearly in half, with no ill effects, in a bit more than two decades.
Now, I can drop the “nearly”. The 2018 numbers are in, and we’ve reached 125 gallons per capita per day.
When I was covering this stuff for the newspaper, I was a skeptic. As I talk about in the first chapter of my last book, I was steeped in the “tragedy narrative” I learned from Marc Reisner and those who followed in his tradition. In fact, I was one of them:
Like many who manage, engineer, utilize, plan for, and write about western water today, I grew up with the expectation of catastrophe…. [A]s drought set in again across the Colorado River Basin in the first decade of the twenty-first century, I was forced to grapple with a contradiction: despite what had Reisner taught me, people’s faucets were still running. Their farms were not drying up. No city was left abandoned.
I didn’t talk about it in the book, but one of the keys for me was Albuquerque’s aquifer. As we pushed the conservation above – along with a significant supply shift to make use of our imported Colorado River water – our aquifer began to rise.
Our water use is down, our aquifer is rising. And we’re still meeting our legal delivery obligations to Elephant Butte Reservoir under the Rio Grande Compact. The system is not only in balance, net storage here is going up.
I know, I know, past performance is no guarantee of future results. Things get harder, not easier, with a growing population and a warming climate. But we’re doing pretty well.
Have a cupcake.