Caryn Grosse

An unprecedented drought in 2002 provided a unique opportunity to change Santa Fe’s cultural values about water, and the drought of the past few years has reinforced the importance of conservation to maintaining a diverse and sustainable water supply in an arid region. Climate change, anticipated in the city’s Long Range Water Supply Plans, may adversely affect the water supply so water conservation and reuse will be crucial elements of our water resource management in the future.

Since 1997, the city of Santa Fe has built a water conservation program that is among the best in the Southwest with respect to both comprehensiveness and effectiveness. Despite record-breaking heat and drought during the past four years, and increasing population, Santa Fe’s dedication to saving water has enabled total water consumption to drop and stay below 10,000 acre-feet a year for the past few years.

After several years hovering above 100 gallons per person per day (gpcd), Santa Fe achieved 95 gpcd in 2014. Gpcd is considered to be a key metric for the performance of any municipal water conservation program. Getting down to 95 gpcd was, and is, a remarkable accomplishment for the City Different, and puts our community well below the national average of 150 gallons per person per day. This is a 56 percent reduction in use since 1995.

Chart: comparison of GPCD by city
Santa Fe Water Conservation

Over the years the city has enacted a number of ordinances: prohibiting water waste, restricting water usage during drought conditions, requiring conservation for landscape and site design, creating water budgets for new construction and providing rebates to encourage water customers to maximize efficiency. Tiered water rates have also played a significant role in reducing consumption, by allowing people to use a reasonable amount of water at a reasonable price, but charging a premium for excessive use.

The Water Conservation Office has developed a number of strategies to reach out to the community about the conservation requirements and incentives that the city has enacted. The office works to educate many different audiences within the community about the benefits of using water efficiently, as well as providing information about technology and behavioral changes that can help save water and money. Currently, some of the most successful strategies include:

Children’s Water Fiesta—a fun, interactive day of learning for fourth-grade students. Each year approximately 600 students from Santa Fe Public Schools participate.

Children’s Poster Contest—a themed competition open to all first- through sixth-grade students, whether in public, private or home school.

Water Conservation Calendar—featuring the wining artwork from the poster contest, as well as tips on saving water indoors and out. Calendar distribution has increased to 5,000 units.

Audits and Leak Detections—Water Conservation staff offer assistance with finding sources of water waste and provide recommendations for repairs and upgrades to save water and money, including applicable rebates.

Rebates—residential and commercial, for replacement of high-use appliances and fixtures with water-efficient models. Devices include high-efficiency toilets, clothes washers, rainwater harvesting, water-free urinals, and irrigation equipment such as soil-moisture sensors and weather-based controllers. A new commercial process efficiency rebate is in the works. The rebate program alone has resulted in 41,969,600 gallons (128.8 acre-feet) of water saved over the last ten years.

  • Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper (QWEL) certification training—landscape professionals learn about water-efficient irrigation techniques and technologies.
  • Green Lodging Initiative—information on rebate programs and other ways to improve water efficiency for hotels, motels and restaurants.
  • Demonstration Garden—a colorful garden showcasing many different types of xeriscape in front of the Water Division.
  • Radio Show—a weekly half-hour show on water topics, including upcoming events, rebates, seasonal water use, finding and fixing leaks and other topics.
  • Event participation – the Water Conservation Office provides community outreach through events such as the Homebuilders Show, CommUNITY Day, classes at the Railyard, the Xeriscape Council Land & Water Summit, Project WET: Water Education for Teachers workshops, and themed events such as the Spooky Showerhead Swap and Fix-A-Leak Week Flapper Friday.
  • Ensuring compliance with applicable water conservation codes, ordinances and regulations.
  • A formal and comprehensive strategic marketing and public outreach plan approved by City Council.

These programs, as well as previous ones, have contributed to Santa Fe’s recent drop below 100 GPCD, but ultimately it is the good water conservation practices of Santa Fe’s citizens that have allowed the city to become a water conservation leader. By following the requirements and participating in rebate programs, Santa Feans have had a tremendous impact on the sustainability of water supplies, as well as saving money on their monthly utility bills.

This year, the drought conditions that Santa Fe has experienced for the last several years have eased, and a relatively wet winter is in the forecast; however, hot, dry weather is expected to resume next year. By continuing to be water conscious, Santa Feans will contribute to the sustainability of our community well into the future.

The Water Conservation Office has created a website with many interactive tools and resources. Water conservation requirements and rebate application forms can also be found there: www.savewatersantafe.com

Caryn Grosse, a water conservation specialist with the city of Santa Fe Water Conservation Office, is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) accredited professional with experience in the design and construction of sustainable buildings. clgrosse@santafenm.gov