The city of Santa Fe has led the nation in water conservation with one of the strongest, most comprehensive water-conservation ordinances. Years ago, the city strategically implemented a rate structure incentivizing utility customers to drastically reduce water consumption. Our building and landscape codes have also become smarter about water. Since the mid-1990s, the city’s efforts have resulted in significant reduction of per capita water use among residents. Successful as it has been, the Santa Fe Water Conservation Office is encouraging folks to reinforce their dedication to water-wise practices. Collectively, we can continue to weave the path of exemplary water conservation and cultivate a deeper awareness and appreciation for water.
In 2014 the Santa Fe area received about 9.5 inches of rain, 30 percent below normal. February’s snowstorms helped lessen what was initially a rather grim outlook. However, overall water availability remains limited, and the cumulative effects of drought are extensive and evident. So, although city water managers are relieved by the much-needed, late-season precipitation and expect to meet demands this year, it remains ever critical for Santa Feans to exercise mindfulness of daily water-conservation habits.
New Mexico is faced with a scarce and coveted water supply that must navigate a path of a broad geography to satisfy many uses. Even if blessed with ample snowpack in a given year, conservation is absolutely critical because its effects have far-reaching implications. For example, Santa Fe has one of the best farmers’ markets in the nation and also boasts many restaurants dedicated to serving local food. There is clearly an increasing demand to support these endeavors, so it’s important to note that our local food system is reliant upon water availability. So, conceivably, water conservation among city residents can help safeguard a supply for irrigation in surrounding acequia communities to sustain their rural livelihood and local agricultural production. These greenbelt regions also contribute to groundwater recharge and support a riparian corridor along rivers and streams, providing wildlife habitat.
Santa Fe is rooted in a larger cultural landscape, valued for its enriching experiences. Surrounding scenic mountain ranges and irrigated valleys are part of the treasured features of the area. All of these regional characteristics that we take for granted owe their existence to water.
When you consider that the hottest and driest years on record took place in the past four years and that tree-ring data illustrate that our region has experienced long-term drought in the distant past, it becomes reasonable to assume that the wet periods of the ’80s and early ’90s were unusual outliers and are unlikely to return any time soon. We lack certainty about future precipitation, but it’s probable that we’ll be plagued with long-term water scarcity. So it is up to us to manifest a deep devotion to water conservation by planting seeds of contagious thought in the minds of all Santa Feans about the true nature of how limited our water supply is.
Lowering your water bill shouldn’t be the sole motivator for conservation. How we view water is ultimately a human choice. Some perceive it as a commodity with an attached dollar value, while others are humbled by their recognition of water as a precious, life-giving resource worthy of reverence. Santa Fe has the power to demonstrate its support for wildlife habitat, river and watershed health, and surrounding agricultural communities by exercising water-efficient lifestyles.
Although the city’s utility customers have done quite well with respect to reducing per capita water use, making Santa Fe a national leader in water conservation, long-term water scarcity implores us to challenge ourselves to become even more water wise.
Quita Ortiz, a water conservation specialist with the city of Santa Fe Water Conservation Office, is a geographer with a background in Geographic Information System, acequias and New Mexico water resources. firstname.lastname@example.org