The Santa Fe New Mexican (New Mexico)
BYLINE: Julie Ann Grimm, The Santa Fe New Mexican
“It’s just really common sense that you water when it’s the coolest, early or late,” Judy Beck said as she planted flowers in a pot on her front porch Tuesday afternoon on Santa Fe’s west side.
What she didn’t realize is that it’s also the law.
Although Beck was already mostly obeying the city’s water-conservation ordinance, she didn’t know it was in place. While saving water is always in season, city officials say that — especially during the summer’s dry heat — they need to increase awareness about conservation.
Outdoor irrigation generally is prohibited inside city limits between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Previous city rules also limited watering to certain days of the week based on street addresses, but now residents are free to choose their own watering days on a sort of a conservation honor system.
“We think our community is really smart with water, and they should be able to manage it in a way that fits their schedule,” said Laurie Trevizo, acting Water Conservation Program manager.
The city also maintains a water-waster hotline and urges residents to report sprinklers spraying onto parking lots, hoses left running at noon in neighbors’ yards and “fugitive” water running down street gutters.
Even though city rules provide fines for violations, the program’s current practice is to investigate those calls and send letters to offenders reminding them of the restrictions. Trevizo said the watering season is just beginning, and the city has mailed about 10 letters this year.
Copies of those letters weren’t available, she said, because the Water Conservation Program is understaffed. Former program manager Dan Ransom left the city for a job in Tucson, Ariz., and what used to be a two-person operation has been up to her since then.
Watering restrictions are in effect annually between May 1 and Oct. 31, but they don’t apply to irrigation necessary to help new plants get established. Officials say that’s why sprinklers were going full blast at Cesar Chavez Community School at 1 p.m. Tuesday. Pools of water were visible in the goal areas, which city Community Services Department Director Ike Pino said got new grass seed this week. The city Parks Division follows the water conservation rules, he said. It maintains the school field through an agreement.
Some city residents haven’t heard about the change from address-based watering to the you-choose model. For example, a man who lives in Casa Solano said Tuesday that he thought rules were in place that limited his watering to Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The hours when watering is legal, he said, are well known.
“Almost everybody knows about it except the new people, and their neighbors tell them,” said the man, who didn’t want to be identified. “You can water all the way up to 10 and not before 6.”
But not everybody in the city is aware enough of conservation principles and rules, Water Conservation Committee member Stephen Wiman said Tuesday. It’s not just about outdoor irrigation, efficient home appliances or rainwater harvesting, but a bigger picture about using water during a persistent state of drought.
“We have lulled the public into a false sense of security,” he said at a committee meeting. “We do have a good record in conservation, but it’s got to be better.”
Wiman touched on reports that Santa Fe’s per-capita water use dropped from 168 gallons per day in 1995 to 104 gallons by the end of 2010. But last year, usage rose to 105 gallons per day, per capita. The target for a sustainable water supply in drought is 85 gallons, he said.
Even though the city’s population is larger, thanks in part to a program that promoted retrofitting of plumbing fixtures, the municipal drinking-water system now pulls less water overall from wells, rivers and reservoirs than it did between 2000 to 2003. Still, drought is “the elephant in the room” that isn’t getting enough attention.
Mandatory restrictions and tiered service charges that make heavy users feel a pinch in their pocketbooks appear to be the most effective strategies, but the city isn’t using them right now, Wiman said.
Like many Santa Fe residents, Beck and her husband replaced the lawn with stones at their rented home in the La Conquistadora neighborhood about six years ago. Now they have a only a small vegetable garden and flower bed along the road and a flower garden near the house. Many of the plants only require water about once a week, but Beck tends to the food plot more often. She said she waters about three times a week, but not every plant gets watered on each occasion.
“I’ll pay the water bill,” she said. “I’m having my tomatoes.”
Copyright 2012 The Santa Fe New Mexican