Santa Fe is brown and its water is green.
As New Mexico continues to suffer one of its most protracted droughts in memory, SFR has resurrected our annual list of the Top 10 water users in the city.
One of our main findings based on public records from 2013: Where the water flows the most in this brown high-desert oasis, so does money.
To take a tour of the top residential water users is to visit some of the city’s most expensive homes, situated on large plots of land with gardens, pools, tennis courts and gates. Fashion designer Tom Ford is on the list, but not at the top. He’s joined by self-proclaimed environmentalists.
To visit the highest-consuming commercial water users is to see the largest institutions in Santa Fe that drive the city’s economy, including four hotels, a college, a hospital and even the conservation-wise city itself.
The most water-hogging commercial users collectively used 89.5 million gallons last year and paid a combined cost of more than $1.5 million, or about 3 percent of the revenue for the water division, $45.5 million.
For residential customers on the list, one problem persists: leaks. The top 10 residential consumers paid a combined price of nearly $80,000 for 4.9 million gallons of water last year. (An average of $8,000 per year compared to the average city family that pays about $1,800 per year, or roughly $154 per month.)
The US Environmental Protection Agency declares this its annual Fix-A-Leak Week, estimating that household leaks nationwide are wasting more than 1 trillion gallons a year. The EPA says that’s equal to the amount of water used annually in more than 11 million homes.
In Santa Fe, city officials estimate that 10 percent of homes have leaks that waste 90 gallons or more per day.
In some cases, residents on this list weren’t aware of leaks because they were out of town.
“A lot of people here who own homes are from Texas, California and all over the state,” says Robert Martinez, owner of Santa Fe Express Plumbing and Drain. As a result, many find floods in their New Mexico houses when they return in the spring.
The city allows customers to apply for a leak credit once a year—provided the customer can prove the existence of a leak and that it spilled more water than used the same month in the previous year. But even with that credit, there’s often still a hefty tab plus a bill from a plumber.
That’s another reminder of how pricey water is in the City Different. Residents have also seen rates rise in each of the last five years to pay for new water-supply projects, but officials haven’t announced any plans to hike rates again soon.
Many bemoan that increases in water rates go against promises officials made when the city acquired the water utility from the Public Service Company of New Mexico two decades ago. (For more about this, see page 9.)
Yet, City Hall boasts that water policies including “conservation surcharges” for excessive use have reduced consumption in Santa Fe by more than 39 percent since 1995, besting other southwestern cities of similar sizes by using an average of only 107 gallons per person per day.
Our research nevertheless shows that Santa Fe’s guzzlers are swallowing millions of gallons every year—just as the city’s surface water supplies, the Santa Fe River and the Rio Grande, fight to flow.
In case you were wondering...
SFR used 44,800 gallons in 2013 for an annual water bill of $566.99. (Consumption, however, might increase this year following the posting of a sign in the men's bathroom featuring an anthropomorphized turd emerging out of a toilet reminding us "No matter your rush, always flush!")