As a professional hydrogeologist, I spent 30 years working on water issues, including many projects in the arid western United States. So I’m very aware that the high desert climate in New Mexico is facing water shortages due to the current long-term drought exacerbated by climate change.
Why then, if such an important resource is so scarce, am I planning a move to Albuquerque? There are two big reasons: 1) Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (ABCWUA) has long been working to foster water conservation and build long-term water supply resiliency; and 2) Cohousing ABQ has made sure water conservation and sustainability are built-in to our community’s design.
Albuquerque water supplies have always been precious and limited. The community gets its water from rivers fed by snowmelt in the Rocky Mountains and from groundwater fed by the rivers and rainfall. More specifically, about 70% of the water supply comes from the San Juan-Chama Drinking Water Project which taps into the Colorado River System, with the remaining 30% being groundwater extracted from the aquifer underlying the city.
The ABCWUA’s “WATER 2120: Water Resources Management Strategy” is a comprehensive integrated plan that addresses the region’s water supply needs and how best to meet them over the next 100 years. The plan, developed with community input and published in 2016, focuses on water conservation along with innovative water resources management, cooperative partnerships, and community education.
Water conservation is a way of life in Albuquerque and is achieved through extensive public education programs, rebates for waterwise landscaping and conservation measures for homeowners, and water waste enforcement, among other efforts.
We’re also excited that our community’s kids will learn about water conservation in a safe, sustainable, and nurturing environment. They can become “water warriors” to carry on the generational challenge we all face with climate change.
What one community can do
The Cohousing ABQ’s community members designed a housing project for Albuquerque that includes not only opportunities for strong personal connections, but also an integrated approach for water conservation. Here are some of the highlights:
In-home fixtures will be waterwise certified and community water use meters will be checked to make sure water system leaks are caught early and quickly fixed.
A greywater system within the residential units will pump shower water for use in toilet flushing.
Our landscape design includes shallow recharge ponds for passive rainwater harvesting. Rather than running storm water drainage into sewers or onto pavement, it will be directed to the ponds for temporary containment as it naturally infiltrates into the soil.
We have already installed a well that will allow us to water our trees, vegetable gardens and landscape without using municipal drinking water. Not only is this a cost savings for residents, but we’ll keep our local water local as it is reabsorbed into the underlying shallow aquifer.
Our landscape plans are for xeriscape using native and climate-appropriate trees and plants. We will have limited areas of grass for the kids to play on. Trees will provide shade and cooling for the common areas. And we will install appropriate irrigation water systems, such as driplines, to minimize water waste and evaporation.
We will compost our vegetable waste and use it onsite to help protect our trees and landscape by keeping moisture where it belongs, in the root zone.