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SFR names biggest residential, commercial water consumers in 2013

March 19, 2014, 12:00 am

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.

Check irrigation systems each spring to look for damage from frost or freezing. Do-it-yourself inspections on irrigation systems can also be as simple as checking for broken or missing sprinkler heads and examining points where they connect to pipes or hoses. Water pooling indicates a leak. Common indoor leaks include drippy faucets or leaky valves. Robert Martinez, the owner of a local plumbing company, says to check boilers and water heaters for corrosion. He notes that when many of his customers leave town, they leave the water on and turn the heat off only to return to a flood because their pipes froze.

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.

Top 10 Water Guzzlers

Residential Users | Commercial Users

Top 10 Residential Users

Letitia Quinn
Los Arboles Drive

Gallons consumed: 635,000
Annual water bill: $5,770.97

Justin Horwath


The news that she made the top of this list is “just appalling to me,” Quinn tells SFR.

Aerial photos of her home off Old Taos Highway show shrubs and trees surrounding a pool and tennis court.

“I do very little in the way of gardening and landscaping,” she says, noting that she splits time between Santa Fe and California. “I’m an environmentalist. I’m very conscientious about these things. But if a pipe bursts and you’re out of town, there’s really nothing that can be done about it— it’s an accident.”

Records support her story about a pipe problem. The city billed her for $9,827.97 in January 2013. In April, she got a leak credit of $9,728.79.

Quinn’s bills in the 11 months after January averaged $388 a month with a high September bill of $1,738.81. Her total water use last year could refill the 30,000-gallon swimming pool at La Fonda hotel every year for more than 20 years.

“You know it was an extremely cold winter, so I’m sure a lot of people had burst pipes,” she says. “But maybe they were luckier than I was and there were people that were there all the time.”

Patricia P Antich
Seville Road

Gallons consumed: 544,000
Annual water bill: $11,178.17

Justin Horwath


This isn’t the first time Antich has been on a top- 10 water users list, and she too says it’s “a horrible feeling.”

From October 2011 to September 2012, she was the fourth-highest water user in the city, using 569,500 gallons. She told The Santa Fe New Mexican that medical issues prevented her from watching her yard closely.

Antich tells SFR she tries to conserve water with underground tanks. She says two pipes froze and burst during the winter.

“I feel terrible about all this and will do all that I can to keep our usage in check in the future and will certainly be more diligent about monitoring my utility bills, which are on automatic pay, and thus easy to overlook,” she writes. “This is the other factor in this sad tale, that I simply never noticed what the water bills were trying to tell me.” 

Old piñon trees adorn her yard, which features a small lap pool and hosted visitors last summer on a tour by a local garden club.

“Clearly I’m going to have to cut back on keeping so many flowers alive I guess,” she says, “because I can’t let the piñons die.”

Roy Trice Jr.
Canyon Road

Gallons consumed: 544,000
Annual water bill: $11,178.17

Justin Horwath


This $1.9 million home built in 1929 is tucked behind a gate off Canyon Road.

Trice, a founding partner at the real estate investment firm Canyon Road Capital, didn’t respond to multiple attempts to contact him.

Records show low January usage with bills climbing north of a grand per month in the summer. Trice’s September bill of $2,513 was the highest monthly cost the city charged the former Texas hedge fund manager in 2013. And so far, there’s no evidence of any leak reimbursements credits issued by the city.

Dan Terrell
Old Pecos Trail

Gallons consumed: 497,800
Annual water bill: $3,449.41

Justin Horwath


Terrell’s monthly bills are some of the lowest among the residential users in the top-10 list.

But there’s one exception. In November, the city charged him $9,992.94.

Records show he received a leak reimbursement from the city worth $9,956.03.

For 11 months, his average water bills were $54.78 each month. The usage is impressively low for his home, which is tucked back from Old Pecos Trail, hidden by a thicket of bushes and trees.

Along with calling him multiple times, SFR left a business card on the front porch to inquire about his water woes.

A tag sticking up from a modest garden plot nearby suggests hyacinths have been cultivated there.

Melody Paulishak
Mansion Ridge Road

Gallons consumed: 494,100
Annual water bill: $2,309.09

©2014 USGS, Map Data ©2014 Google


Melody Paulishak’s father George is a Pennsylvania transplant who says he’s worked in construction before, and he knows that “if there’s a pool of water in the ground, there’s got to be a pipe around there leaking.”

Paulishak, a surgeon, and her parents rent the 5,600-square-foot home on Mansion Ridge Road, so named for its proximity to the home occupied by the state governor’s mansion.

Sometime in late spring of 2013, an outdoor pipe for the irrigation system began leaking, they say. Records show they got hit with over $9,700 in water bills in May and June.

Anthony Gonzales, a general contractor for the property, says the age of the pipeline to the property contributed to the “massive” leak.

“There was one spot up on top of the hill where the grass was green, green, and it was dry at that time,” he says.

The city reimbursed Paulishak $9,612.19 for the problem, data show. Most of the monthly water bills without the leak ranged from $60-$80.

The house is about 45 years old. Gonzales notes that’s when construction workers often threw whatever dirt was at the site around piping instead of creating bedding for it.

“A lot of times they’d throw like a sharp rock or something on a pipe,” he says.

Diana Coles
Zozobra Lane

Gallons consumed: 470,600
Annual water bill: $9,833.21

Justin Horwath


A cluster of pine trees grows in the middle of Coles’ U-shaped driveway, where signs warn away solicitors and say video surveillance is conducted on the property, estimated by the county assessor as worth $305,700. Coles wasn’t home on a recent Sunday. A man showed up and said he would relay the message to Coles that she’s made this top-10 list. Asked for his name, the man replied: “None of your business.”

Records show water bills in the $40 range until May, when her bills skyrocketed from $1,144 to $2,457 in warmer months before dipping back down to the $40 range in October.

Tom Ford, Richard Buckley
Camino Santander

Gallons consumed: 452,500
Annual water bill: $9,262.37

Justin Horwath


Fashion journalist Richard Buckley answered the intercom at the gate the end of Camino Santander, the entrance to a home he shares with his partner, world-famous fashion designer Tom Ford.

“You know we come and go, so we don’t use a lot of water. So I don’t understand how we can be in the top 10,” he says. “On top of it, we’re really water wise.”

Records show monthly water bills for the 9,400-square-foot, east-side home were between $220 to $465 until June through September, when monthly bills ranged from $900 to a high of $3,275.

According to building plans on file with the county assessor, the home has 10 fireplaces and 13 finished rooms and an estimated value of $5.6 million.

Days after SFR’s brief interview with Buckley, we received a letter from attorney Janet McKay, representing Angus Buckley, LLC, the entity that owns the property.

“[M]y client wanted me to communicate to you that 2013 was an unusual year for this property,” reads the letter, “and is not reflective of the ongoing water usage.”

Three factors in the summer contributed to the high usage, says the letter: leaks in a newly installed irrigation system not detected until the water bill was received; power outages that caused the irrigation system to malfunction; and the installation of newly planted trees required as a part of the city’s development rules on hilltop homes.

The trees required “intensive watering,” says the letter, during “the extraordinarily dry spring and summer season.”

An inquiry to the attorney about the type of trees went unanswered.

“We weren’t even here that much in 2013,” Buckley says of the water use.

Linda Saurage
Camino Del Monte Sol

Gallons consumed: 437,800
Annual water bill: $8,757.48

Justin Horwath


There must be something about the east side of town and intercoms. SFR left a message over the intercom posted at the front of a gate at this $1.8 million house, and we called a number listed in the phone book. We’ve received no reply.

Saurage received only two bills in the $40 range in February and December, but otherwise had high monthly bills ranging from roughly $230-$1,500. She did not receive a credit for a leak from the city, according to records.

A November 2012 newsletter from the Santa Fe Conservation Trust lists a woman with the same name as a $1,000 to $4,999 patron of the preservation network.

Daniel Burrell
Circle Drive

Gallons consumed: 434,500
Annual water bill: $9,292.60

Justin Horwath


“So you’re chasing me down about my water bill?” jokes Burrell when he answers the phone.

Burrell is a hard guy to chase. The former CEO of Santa Fe’s Rosemont Realty, he recently formed Burrell Western Resources, a mining venture that seeks to extract garnet, a mineral found in gemstones, in Orogrande, NM.

Bills show water use began to climb from the $55-$70 range in early 2013 and jumped to the $725- $880 range in the warmer months. In December, he was hit with a $4,064.43 charge for 184,100 gallons used. An underground pressure gauge of an irrigation system that feeds an outdoor patio area burst, Burrell says, while the couple was out of town for the holidays.

“It was not that big of a break, but it was flooding underneath the house,” he says, “so there was nothing on the surface we could see.”

Workers fixed the leak, and he says they applied for and received a leak credit with the city. The next monthly usage in the $2.9 million home dropped to 5,500 gallons.

Karen and Steve Durkovich
Camino De Cruz Blanca

Gallons consumed: 406,600
Annual water bill: $8,329.01

Justin Horwath


Fixing the leak was an “expensive process,” sighs Steve Durkovich.

The first warning came with the high water bills. The couple checked their drips, he says, and everything seemed okay. “But our bills were high, high, high, and then they were high when they shouldn’t have been high,” says Durkovich, a lawyer.

The first few water bills for the couple were average—between $70 and $80 a month. But the price slowly climbed to a peak of $1,462.27 in July. The bills then slowly dropped off to a low of $69.81 in December.

He says the home was built with bad copper piping. The three-bedroom, $2.1 million home sits near Atalaya Mountain.

After a while, water started pooling up in the bathroom, Steve says, while walls grew damp.

“Most people have ongoing leaks outside,” he says, “Ours was inside.”

Top 10 Commercial Users

Quail Run Association Inc.
Old Pecos Trail

Gallons consumed: 17,293,800
Annual water bill: $346,572.39

Justin Horwath


A security guard at the gate prevents entry into Quail Run, which advertises that it “epitomizes gracious Southwest living.” The condominium community—advertised to members as “a high desert oasis” with more than 100 landscaped acres, a nine-hole golf course rated by the Professional Golfers’ Association, a full-service restaurant, spa services and a 65-foot indoor ozonepurified pool—has been at the top of similar lists before.

While management didn’t return SFR’s calls, the city gives one clue about Quail Run’s water use: The city sends one bill to the association, not individual bills to each homeowner, says Nick Schiavo, acting Public Utilities Department director. In the cold months in 2013, water bills for the association ranged from $1,300 to $1,700, then increased at an enormous rate, with monthly bills ranging from $25,000 to $76,000 from May through November.

The association’s average daily water use in 2013 matched the average daily use for more than 800 people in Santa Fe during the previous year.

La Fonda Hotel
Water Street

Gallons consumed: 9,832,100
Annual water bill: $169,569.00

Don Graham


While La Fonda is second on the list, it used 56 percent of the water Quail Run consumed in 2013.

Jennifer Kimball, hotel board chairwoman, attributes the high water usage by the 306,000-square-foot building to a number of factors. The 179-room luxury hotel has a higher occupancy than other hotels, she says, adding that it underwent renovation in 2013, for which the hotel had to drain the 30,000-gallon swimming pool.

Kimball says spikes in water use at the hotel aren’t due to the guests staying in the hotel, but guests who use its public restrooms during the peak of tourism season, when foot traffic on the Plaza is heavy. It’s long been the hotel’s policy to allow anyone to use its restrooms off East San Francisco Street.

She argues the hotel takes a number of steps to be a good environmental steward, including using low-flow toilets and reminding guests that Santa Fe is a high-desert environment. Signs in rooms say that towels hung on racks will not be washed. The hotel also installed three 3,000-gallon cisterns in the parking garage in the ’80s that help water the hotel’s plants.

“We had a big fountain up on the terrace years ago,” Kimball says. “We now just put pots and plants there and don’t use it because of water usage.”

General Manager John Rickey notes the hotel, which employs roughly 230 workers, also has the second-largest banquet facility in Santa Fe and is a “very large, very busy facility. And therefore, you know, we use more water than less successful properties.”

City of Santa Fe
Zia Road & Avenida Chaparral

Gallons consumed: 9,105,000
Annual water bill: $150,815.81

Justin Horwath


Ragle Park’s green playing fields are costing taxpayers a pretty penny.

“It’s not an aberration,” Public Works Department Director Isaac Pino says of the park’s 2013 usage of over 9 million gallons of water. “You’re talking about a park that has close to 40 acres of irrigated turf that gets watered from roughly late March all the way to November.”

The city retrofit Ragle with water-saving irrigation elements as part of the parks bond issued in 2008, he says, noting that timers and moisture meters that help the city save on irrigation.

Santa Fe has more than 170 acres of irrigated playing fields citywide. It’s also introducing reclaimed water for some irrigation, he says.

He notes the city does not exempt itself from the water-use restrictions during drought conditions that call for watering only a few days a week.

“We’re supposed to lead the pack by example, I suppose,” he says.

St. John’s College
Camino De Cruz Blanca

Gallons consumed: 8,710,900
Annual water bill: $150,937.56

Justin Horwath


With an undergraduate enrollment of 350 students, St. John’s College may be known for small class sizes. But that doesn’t mean this private liberal arts college—whose annual undergraduate tuition is currently $47,176—isn’t a big gulper.

A spokesman for the school says officials have set a goal to reduce water use by between 10 and 20 percent with the help of an outside organization.

Monthly water bills show a bell curve, with the most expensive bills in the summer, topping off at $47,923.29 in June—although records show no bills in the subsequent two months. Data also suggest the city credited the school for $7,929.76 in April. That month’s bill of $3,696.80 was also its lowest of the year.

The picturesque campus is located on the edge of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains, and it affords students plenty of recreation and study space on the 250-acre plot. At the center of campus, a small koi pond embellishes Schepps Garden. Sun Mountain Field, just off the campus, will be opening in April 2014. Signs warn passers-by to keep off the grass “while the field takes root,” but the school does provide a free space for visitors to get their toes on the luscious lawn for its “Music on the Hill” concert series each summer.

Inn and Spa at Loretto
Old Santa Fe Trail

Gallons consumed: 8,274,900
Annual water bill: $151,139.59

Don Graham


Marketing Director Dana Ortega says while she’s surprised the hotel made it at the No. 5 spot, it does have one of the highest occupancies in Santa Fe, “so I can understand that.”

One of four hotels on the commercial users list, the Inn and Spa at Loretto has 136 rooms, a full-service spa and fine dining.

“One of the challenges that we face is that, because we’re a luxury hotel and people are spending over $200 a night here, is trying to get our guests to recognize how much water we use just by washing towels and linens,” Ortega says. Each room has four towels, two hand towels, robes, sheets and pillowcases that all require washing.

Cards in the room encourage guests to “partner with us in ‘Destination Earth,’ our program of conservation and sustainability.” The cards note that towels left in the tub or floor will be changed while towels on the racks or hooks “tell us that you wish to reuse them.”

Ortega notes the hotel is recognized for its conservations efforts by Green Key Global, which gave the hotel a ranking of four out of five for being eco-friendly.

Eldorado Hotel
San Francisco Street

Gallons consumed: 8,101,000
Annual water bill: $147,025.49

Daniel Mayers


Eldorado Hotel and Spa’s amenities include a rooftop pool, hot tub, restaurant and a spa. The county assessor estimates the hotel’s property value tops $32 million.

Monthly bills ranged from $9,200 to $16,000. Records indicate it hadn’t received a credit from the city in 2013.

Although hotel management didn’t reply to a request for comment for this story, an environmental policy posted on Eldorado’s website states it uses low-flow toilets and fixtures in all its bathrooms, guests participate in a towel-reuse program and that it uses front-loading, low-water-use washing machines for all its laundry. It says the hotel agreed in January 2013 to engage in those practices, along with others, to qualify for HospitalityGreen’s Green Concierge Certification program.

Coronado Shopping Center
Cordova Road

Gallons consumed: 7,469,500
Annual water bill: $89,533.28



Tom Simon, owner of Westgate Properties LLC, is the property manager for the Corodado shopping center. He says the water meter at the shopping center covers all 19 business tenants—which include establishments like Radio Shack, Santa Fe Baking Company, Trader Joes and Subway, Furr’s Family Dining, Dahn Yoga and Great Clips. Water bills list the entity that owns the property as 505 Cordova LLC.

In the fall of 2013, he says, Westgate noticed a dramatic increase in water usage. It wasn’t until December that a leak detection company located the source, he says: a jetter that helped clean grease from a drain line at a restaurant. The jetter was on continuously, he says.

“Once we found the source of the leak it was fixed within 24 hours,” Simon says. “It wasn’t the kind of leak where you see water everywhere. It was going right down the drain.”

Monthly bills ranged from $5,000 to more than $8,000, with a high November bill of $17,887.44. Records do not show it received a leak credit from the city.

Christus St. Vincent Hospital
St. Michael’s Drive

Gallons consumed: 7,183,200
Annual water bill: $113,577.91

Justin Horwath


Santa Fe’s largest hospital—and one of the biggest employers in the area—says it has a number of water conservation practices.

Spokesman Arturo Delgado writes that the hospital has low-flow water fixtures throughout the 268-bed facility. The hospital’s water use is from drinking water, wastewater and evaporative cooling, he writes.

Water bills up to March were no more than $1,800, but spiked to almost $31,000 in April before dropping off to about $5,200 in August. Drip irrigation is used on the main campus, he says, along with xeriscaping with city-approved trees and plants.

For the campus landscaping, Delgado says the hospital uses a 10,000-gallon tank to collect runoff to water plants and trees on its campus.

Bluffs at Tierra Contenta
Jaguar Drive

Gallons consumed: 7,159,000
Annual water bill: $113,429.71

Justin Horwath


This affordable housing community is distinctive in that it’s the only entity on either list that’s on the far south side of town.

The executive director of the nonprofit Tierra Contenta Corp., James Hicks, says there are 160 affordable housing units in the Bluffs, with about three people occupying each unit for a population of roughly 480.

Bills for 11 months ranged from $5,200 to $14,000. Its highest bill came in July, when the city charged $17,787.66. It did not receive a leak credit from the city. A fence cages off a swimming pool.

Hicks says more than 90 percent of the Tierra Contenta development, which comprises about 2,400 homes with a population of 7,500, uses lowflow toilets. “Quite a few of the houses do not have dishwashers because of water usage,” Hicks says 

Santa Fe Hilton
Sandoval Street

Gallons consumed: 6,549,900
Annual water bill: $70,583.53

©2014 USGS, Map Data ©2014 Google


Like other luxury hotels, the Santa Fe Hilton offers guests a pool, spa and dining services.

Hilton officials haven’t returned several messages to comment on its monthly water bills, which ranged from $3,400 to $8,600, with its highest bill of $12,453.78 in October. Hilton Worldwide’s Corporate Responsibility Report says the international chain reduced its water use by 10.2 percent since 2009.

Marie Jonsson, 34, thinks the hotel can do more to conserve water. A scientist from Sweden, she was a recent guest at the Hilton attending a symposium on molecular and cellular biology.

For more than two years, she stayed in Australia, she says, where hotels in the arid country encourage guests to not shower for longer than two minutes. Here, there were not enough hooks in the bathroom for her and her roommate to hang up towels, she says. “They don’t have to change the bed sheets every day,” she adds.

Jonsson says this is her first time visiting Santa Fe. She got a snapshot of New Mexico’s dehydration from thousands of feet in the air.

“Flying from Texas, you know, you could see all this cultivated ground like on the surface everywhere,” Jonnson says. “And then all of the sudden it just went desert—nothing.”

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!”)


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