Albuquerque’s water use continues to decline

Since I left my job at the Albuquerque Journal, I’ve not been devoting the obsessive attention to local water that I did when I was, y’know, paid to. But a boy has to have a hobby, right? So this week I emailed David Morris at the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority requesting a copy of the agency’s monthly report to the state of New Mexico on the total volume water pumped for the first four months of 2015.

Just for old times’ sake.

What does it show? That my community’s water conservation binge has slowed a bit, but hasn’t stopped. The downward trend hasn’t matched the numbers we saw in 2013-14, when a one-year drop of more than 8 percent in consumption pushed total water use to its lowest level since the 1980s (despite a population 70 percent larger) and wreaked havoc on the agency’s budget.

Total use for the most recent 12 months is down another 1 percent.

The agency’s crazy conservation budget-driven problems I wrote about ad nauseam when I was at the newspaper haven’t gone away. A rate hike last year helped, but it looks like the trend for the current fiscal year is to once again fall behind the annual budget projections. According to the most recent quarterly financial report, (I hope this link works – click on the attachment C-15-4):

First quarter rate revenues are $6.2 million above the actuals for the same period in FY/14…. Revenues are projected to increase at a minimum of $1 million a month due to the increase in the base rate, however at this time the projection for rate revenue is $2.5 million less than budgeted….

In the midst of all the bad drought/water news, it’s important to remember that there are significant municipal conservation success stories out there, like Albuquerque’s, from which we can learn and take hope. But the problem of getting rate structures right to continue to cover fixed costs as water sales decline remains a problem.

P.S. I love the comments on that old story. This whole “use less water, have your rates go up” thing is a real political problem. But despite the raft of comments stories like this often generated, I can only recall one (or maybe two) instances in the entire time I was covering the agency when residents actually came to a meeting to take to the podium and argue against a rate increase. The dominant public comment we heard, especially from civically active people who understand the agency’s budget like my friend Elaine Hebard (quoted in the above story), was that the rate increases weren’t enough to cover a rising backlog of unmet infrastructure needs.