Making Conservation Pay

Albuquerque water authority finds that a $20 incentive boosts attendance for a class in outdoor water conservation and helps cut water consumption.
Making Conservation Pay
Laura Ferrary, co-owner of Smart Use, teaches water conservation. Customers receive a $20 credit on their bills for attending.

Automakers offer cash rebates. Shoe stores offer buy-one-get-one-free deals. Grocery stores offer double-coupon days. And the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority offers a $20 credit on customers’ bills if they attend a free “Water Smart — How to Water Your Landscape” class.

Authority conservation manager Katherine Yuhas says the program has been effective in spreading the message about the importance of water conservation in New Mexico’s high desert metropolis. The Water Smart program completed its fourth year in 2012 and, despite two years of extreme drought, “We’ve recorded our two best conservation years,” Yuhas says.

The authority tracks water usage and finds that customers who take the class reduce their outdoor water use by 18 percent compared to other customers. For the average home, that’s a savings of 9,000 gallons per year.

More than 10,000 water customers have taken the class in the past four years. Yuhas says face-to-face contact is the most effective way to bring the water conservation message to consumers, and she considers the $20 credit instrumental in attracting up to 400 people at a time for the hour-long classes offered six times a year during the summer watering season.

The classes are pretty basic. Consultant Richard Chapman of Smart Use teaches customers to calculate how much water they need for their landscapes and how to set the most effective watering schedule. He also tells about water-conserving plantings and other ways to reduce watering. Participants receive information about xeriscaping, free water-use audits, and the utility’s outdoor rebates.

Yuhas says reducing water consumption is significant in a region where the average annual rainfall is about eight inches. The authority, which serves 623,000 people, gets about 40 percent of its water from surface sources and the rest from the Middle Rio Grande Aquifer.

Albuquerque has continued growing despite the 2009 recession, but water demand has dropped. In 1994, the authority set out to reduce per capita usage from 252 to 150 gpd. The utility reached that goal in 2011, three years early, and that means a savings of more than 2 billion gallons.

The Water Smart classes are effective, but they are only the newest initiative in a comprehensive effort to conserve water. “The conservation program has been around almost 20 years, and we’re always trying to think of better ways to get people involved,” Yuhas says. “It’s really about protecting our aquifer. We’re in a situation where there isn’t any more water to get.”

For adults, the utility offers a second Water Smart class (not covered by the rebate program) on how to design a drip irrigation system or convert an existing sprinkler system to drip irrigation. The authority offers a variety of other incentives for people to conserve water. The outdoor rebate program includes:

  • 25 percent of the cost of a multi-setting sprinkler controller
  • 25 percent of the cost (up to $50 credit) to rent sod removal equipment for xeriscaping
  • 25 percent of the cost (up to $100 credit) for compost for xeriscaping
  • $25 each for rain sensors, pressure regulation valves and pressure vacuum break (PVB) backflow prevention valves
  • Rainwater harvesting equipment rebates based upon storage volume
  • $2 per head for multi-stream rotor heads for sprinklers

The indoor water conservation program, launched long before the outdoor water conservation program, offers residential and commercial customers a variety of incentives to conserve. It offers rebates for water-saving washing machines, toilets and shower heads, and $100 rebates for installing hot-water recirculating systems that avoid waste when people run water down the drain while waiting for hot water at the faucet or shower head.

The authority also offers extensive education for elementary and secondary school students, including hands-on presentations geared to appropriate age levels, facility tours, and a water conservation curriculum that meets state grade-level standards.


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