By Elizabeth W. Hughes
— An unending dry spell has prompted the Water Utility Authority Board to declare a drought watch as of March 1. Reacting to a lack of rainfall over the last two years, the board increased penalties for water waste. Fines will be doubled. First-time violators who are caught releasing water into the street will face a $40 penalty instead of $20. Fines can be as high as $4,000.
The board also aims to increase public awareness. The “It’s not just dry, it’s a drought!” public service campaign will hit as water use increases over the spring and summer months.
Save Water, Save $$$$$
Several Water Authority programs aim to help homeowners reduce consumption: There’s a $25 rebate for installing a swamp cooler thermostat, a $20 bill credit for attending a DroughtSmart class and a $150 rebate for those who swap their high-flow toilets with high-efficiency toilets. Sign up for a free audit of your home’s water use, free leak checks and the free installation of efficient devices by calling 888-1722.
Water use has actually gone down in Bernalillo County. The board announced that use decreased two gallons per person every day between 2011 and 2012. The Water Authority is seeking input from the public on additional programs. Download the proposed plan and submit comments on its website.
The National Weather Service’s monthly rain forecasts look bleak for the state. But Water Authority spokesperson Katherine Yuhas pointed out that the Four Corners’ drought status had improved from January to February. The Duke City receives some its water from the San Juan River, which flows through that region.
Hot Summer Plans
John Stomp, chief operating officer of the Water Authority, presented goals at the meeting. He discussed strategies to best use Albuquerque’s wells, treatment facilities and surface water from the San Juan Chama project. In his presentation, he highlighted the need for the San Juan Chama surface water: Restrictions on Rio Grande water are prohibitive, he said, and river levels must be much higher than what is anticipated for use in the the warmer months.
Kill Those Pills
The board commended the Albuquerque Police Department’s program to dispose of prescription pills properly. The APD crime lab estimates it has destroyed 1,200 pounds of used, outdated prescription pills in their evidence incinerator. This keeps the drugs out of landfills, wells and the Rio Grande.
Know Your Plume
Rick Shean, a water quality hydrologist, provided his monthly status report on the Kirtland Air Force Base jet fuel spill. His presentation indicated that there is growing concern that the base should be doing more to monitor the spread of the plume. He talked about strategies for measuring the depth and movement of the leaked fuel and stressed the importance of knowing its precise location and size for cleanup efforts.
Shean also noted that the New Mexico Environment Department had issued a letter of disapproval on Feb. 1 outlining 42 deficiencies in the base’s quarterly report about the spill. The letter stated that the report doesn’t convey detailed information about the contamination in the groundwater. The Environment Department also said the report doesn’t explain how successful the base will be in removing vapors from the soil.
The letter further explains that if the Air Force is not gathering proper data to define the problem, the work plans will also be incomplete.
At the last board meeting on Jan. 16, a resolution was narrowly passed that demands the base find technology to clean up soil and aquifer contamination. “There has been some back-pedaling I wish had not occurred,” said board member Rey Garduño. “I don’t know what else we can ask Kirtland Air Force Base to do.”
The next Water Authority Board Meeting is Wednesday, March 20, at 5 p.m. in the Vincent E. Griego Chambers in the basement of City Hall. View the agenda in advance at bit.ly/WaterAgenda.