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Alamogordo’s Innovative Water Conservation Meets Needs of Growing Population

Alamogordo (NM) Mayor Donald E. Carroll and Maureen K. Schmittle, Public Communications Manager
March 6, 2006


By Alamogordo (NM) Mayor Donald E. Carroll and Maureen K. Schmittle, Public Communications Manager

Alamogordo (NM) is a proud recipient of the Conference of Mayors and the Urban Water Council’s Municipal Water Conservation Achievement Award in the category of innovative conservation. Our program is innovative because it uses a broad based systematic approach to conservation, which has achieved proven and remarkable results. Our highest recorded per capita usage, in 1992, was 261.28 gallons per capita per day (gpcd). Per capita use in 2004 was 121.4 gpcd. Based upon our average 80 percent residential-only consumption rate, this equates to 97.12 gpcd for residential use. This substantial decrease in water consumption occurred during a period when we experienced almost 29 percent population growth. The per capita measurement tool can prove difficult for comparison because communities may calculate it with different formulas and determining factors. Alamogordo determined its per capita figures by dividing the total annual raw water production by 365 for a daily average, and dividing that figure by the estimated number of water users.

How did we achieve this? Our program components include the covering and lining of all reservoirs, water'saving fire equipment testing systems implemented by the Fire Services Division, our extensive reclaimed water system, a meter replacement program, numerous education methods, and of course citizen participation. Alamogordo’s conservation program involves all community sectors. It has been improved and expanded each year. We have not rested with our success; we continue to revamp the system as new methods of conservation become evident.

The city started utilizing reclaimed, treated water in 1991 and has improved the system significantly since then. To date, the city has spent approximately $4 million in local funds on the development of a reclaimed water system. All city parks, golf course, and many school ballfields are irrigated with reclaimed water. The construction industry uses reclaimed rather than potable water for dust abatement and other construction needs. Use is metered, and the industry receives this water at a deeply discounted rate. The Public Works yard also uses reclaimed water for similar tasks.

Alamogordo has lined and covered all reservoirs, at a cost of $1.97 million, to reduce the loss of water through evaporation and leakage. The combined effect of this program has been an estimated loss prevention of up to 1.5 million gallons a day during the summer months.

The city implemented a commodity-based increasing block rate system which strongly encourages conservation from customers. At the same time, education programs were implemented. Education is a key method for achieving participation. Citizens have become very conservation'savvy. Many have worked diligently to cut their bills and conserve water by trading residential green'space for rock'scaped and desert-scaped yards, participating in the low-flow toilet replacement program, and adhering to a strict outdoor watering schedule. The Community Development Department has provided rebates for approximately 500 low-flow toilets since that program’s inception in 2002. Keep Alamogordo Beautiful (KAB) provides conservation education through the Alamogordo Public Schools and other settings, and at yearly community events. KAB also offers free xeriscaping workshops by trained volunteers and demonstrates xeriscaping at several city green spaces, often maintained by volunteer groups. This 2006 school year, a Water Wise pilot project will be conducted at Sierra Elementary School. It is an interactive water conservation program for third graders and their families which will track water use, teach conservation methods, provide each family with a free shower head and a free leak-test kit, and show children how to check for leaks.

The Fire Services Division - Department of Public Safety implemented several innovative methods in 2004 to conduct required equipment testing. They built a pump test facility and installed an in-ground tank to re-circulate fire truck testing water. For hydrant flushing, a modified surplus tanker utilizes reclaimed water, then releases it into the sewer system to be recycled – again. The Department contracted a consultant to conduct a computer analysis of hydrant flow capabilities throughout the city, which provided an accurate gallons-per-minute measurement of each hydrant’s capacity, without actually consuming any water. These testing methods save tens of thousands of gallons per year.

Alamogordo has instituted an ongoing repair and replacement program that is designed to keep the delivery system in a good state of repair. This is essential to minimizing unnecessary losses from the system and to assuring that the maximum amount of water is delivered to the users. The Public Works Department and the Utility Billing Department have audited unaccounted-for water losses. The Departments tracked water use closely, taking into account breaks and fires. As part of our auditing process, all meters over 12 years old will be replaced.

Other future plans include an upgrade to our reclaimed water system. We are preparing to construct a 1 million gallon storage tank for our reclaimed water system and we plan to completely loop the reclaimed system for maximum efficiency.

The net effect of Alamogordo’s Water Conservation Program has been a reduction in per capita consumption and total annual consumption, achieved by both reduced and avoided consumption. All efforts culminated in a record low water-use year for 2004. Alamogordo Mayor Donald E. Carroll was proud to accept the Conference of Mayors and the Urban Water Council’s award from fellow New Mexican Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez in Washington (DC) January 27 during the Conference’s Annual Winter Meeting. Both mayors know all too well the scarcity of potable water in the arid southwest. Back home, Carroll told the public he accepted the award “on behalf of the city and the citizens, because they’re the ones who made it happen by conserving water.” He pledged to reinvest the $5,000 award back into a water conservation fund to be used on educational and conservation promotion materials.