Water Conservation Overview
City of Alamogordo
Water Conservation Program Overview
City of Alamogordo
1376 E. Ninth Street
Alamogordo New Mexico 88310
November 2006, 3rd Edition
April 2005, 2nd Edition
revisions prepared by Patrick McCourt and Maureen K. Schmittle
Original prepared February 2003 by Patrick McCourt, City Manager
Maureen K. Schmittle, Grant Coordinator
And Susan Flores, Special Projects Manager
Purpose of Report
This report describing the City of Alamogordo’s Water Conservation Program was updated in April 2005, in response to the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer’s review of our initial Overview, submitted March of 2003. The report was adopted by the City Commission as an official document, by Resolution 2006-13. This 3rd edition is presented as an update to the previous two, and as an exhibit to clarify water conservation actions through 2006. This report shall serve as a history of how we reduced City water usage and a plan for how to continue water conservation efforts. The report has the following sections, and includes an Appendix with supporting documents:
1) Statement of Opinions;
2) A Summary of the steps taken and the results achieved;
3) Discussion on per capita use as a measurement;
4) Measurement and Meter replacement program;
5) Repair and Replacement program;
6) Use of Rates;
7) Conservation and Rationing Ordinances and Approaches;
8) Reclaimed Water;
9) Public Outreach and Education; and
Statement of Opinions
1) The City of Alamogordo has taken aggressive action, which has been very effective, in using its available water resources to address the needs of the residents of the City. The program has addressed the various components of the water system and has not focused on any one area.
2) The per capita measurement tool, while not the only gauge, is probably the best gauge available to be used in measuring the progress of a municipality in moving toward efficient use of water. The City of Alamogordo factors per capita water usage figures by dividing the total amount of untreated water production, water diverted from all sources, by the estimated population. Therefore, our per capita figures include unaccounted-for water. We also monitor total average daily usage to measure progress and plan for the near future. To do this we look at total diversions measured per day, per month, and annually. Our average daily use has declined steadily, and reached a low measure of 4.43 million gallons per day (MGD) in 2005. This amount is down from as much as 7.73 MGD in 1992. Average daily use is figured by adding every month’s total diversions and dividing that figure by 365. Residential-only per capita consumption for the last few years has averaged approximately 77.5% of the total water consumed based on Utility Billing Department records, report in Appendix.
3) The City has used accurate accounting of who is using the water and how much is used. The Water Billing Department reviews residential, non-residential, and City accounts frequently and reports to the City Manager to ensure fair cost distribution among users. The rate system is scrutinized generally for a 3 month period before annual changes are implemented. The City Manager and the Public Works Director monitor daily and monthly water reports, provided by our contracted water system operator Severn Trent Services, to look for significant discrepancies and to prepare when there is a threat of shortage. Daily usage and storage levels are published in each Alamogordo Daily News edition, along with a comparison of the same date one year prior, to make the public aware of our on-going situation. See Appendix for yearly water production histories.
4) The City 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 assure that the maximum amount of water is delivered to the users. In 2004 and early 2005, the Public Works Department and the Utility Billing Department took a close look at unaccounted-for water losses. The Departments tracked water use closely, taking into account breaks and fires. It was determined that faulty meters between the reservoirs and the treatment plant had been reading high for production, by as much as 12%. The conclusion was that real water loss was about 12-14% for 2004. These two Departments are currently developing an audit program. As part of our auditing process, all meters over 12 years old will be replaced.
5) The City uses a tier rate structure, reviewed yearly, to encourage every user to recognize the value of water and to encourage the prudent use of water by each user. See Appendix for current rate structure and last year’s rates.
6) The City Commission has adopted a Conservation and Rationing Ordinance, which has been updated several times, to establish community values for appropriate uses of water and to allocate the available resources when they are in short supply. See Appendix.
7) The City has adopted a very extensive reclaimed water program to reuse available water and maintain a quality of life in the community beyond bare subsistence. Reclaimed water use is metered. The system can utilize up to 3 MGD in the summer. The City has spent over $4 million constructing 16.2 miles of pipeline and two booster stations. Construction was completed in 2006 on a 1-million gallon storage tank. In 2004 we used about 499 million gallons of reclaimed water in the various parks and golf course. The same year we produced about 1,592.06 million gallons of treated water from the two water filter plants and various wells. These figures account for backwash water but no other losses.
8) The City has provided education and incentives to assist citizens in reducing usage of water while maintaining a reasonable lifestyle.
9) The City has used and continues to use a broad-based program that incorporates the user’s freedom of choice, economics, and good stewardship of the water resource to provide a high quality water delivery system in Alamogordo. This program has achieved a very high level of success. Using the per capita measurement, the City has reduced its total use from 261.28 gallons per capita per day (gpcd) in 1992 to 113.07 gpcd in 2005 based on our population estimate. If using 2000 Census data, for a more conservative per capita figure, total consumption averaged 123.12 gpcd in 2005. This figure is far below the normal usage, it has been driven by supply side. Without the aggressive rationing steps taken by the community the City might have had inadequate water available for basic and emergency needs.
10) The City of Alamogordo has lined and covered the three raw water reservoirs as well as covered and lined the reclaimed water reservoirs (total of 5). The City spent in excessive of $1,970,000 on these projects. This has resulted in a savings of between 500 to 600 acre feet of water per year (approximately 327 million gallons per year) which would otherwise have been lost to evaporation. The City is the only New Mexico Municipality that I am aware of that has lined and covered its reservoirs.
11) Since our first Water Conservation Program Overview was submitted, the community has continued to improve its conservation habits. Based upon guidelines drafted by the State Engineer for the City of Alamogordo, an estimated goal for residential use of 124.73 gallons per person per day would be reasonable. Based upon the 79.22% residential consumption rate in 2003, established by Utility Billing records, the City reached a residential use of 99.397 gpcd in 2003. The City of Alamogordo has begun to see a plateau of our water use over the past few years. While there is some room for improvement, further conservation will not be sufficient to provide for the future needs of the community. The City is continuing work to secure additional sources of water to provide for the current and future needs of the people of Alamogordo.
In the 1980s the City of Alamogordo experienced a dry period, following a very wet period. This dry period encouraged the City to review the existing water system and usage of water in the community. The City recognized that the surface water constituted a vast majority of the supply of water and that the collection system for that supply was in poor condition. This resulted in extensive losses of water through leaks in the collection system and inappropriately placed collection points. In addition to the collection system being antiquated and leaky, the water rates were being heavily subsidized. Attempts to increase rates by the City Commission had met with bitter political opposition, including threats of Commissioner recalls and regular referendums on any rate ordinances. The per capita water use rate in 1990 was 245.54 gallons per person per day. The Commission recognized the need to adopt an aggressive program to address the needs of the community. This program needed to address both short-term water needs and long-term water needs. The City recognized that the first step in any water program is to use the existing resources as efficiently as possible.
The City had always recognized the need for an accurate metering system for billing purposes, therefore water meters have been included on every use of potable water in the City’s system, with the exception of fire hydrants, since the earliest days of the system. The City budgets a replacement program each year to replace aging meters. To the best of our knowledge, every water use except fire hydrants is metered and each meter is read on a monthly basis. There is one potable water hauler who accesses the system through two hydrants, and there are meters on that use. The City did discover, during calendar year 2000, that a fire hydrant line had been tapped by the school for irrigation purposes, but that was immediately corrected and the irrigation use switched to reclaimed water. The irrigation use is now metered.
The City embarked on an extensive repair program of the surface water collection system beginning in the 1980s. The collection system had been built in the 1950s, the purpose of the repair was to increase the efficiency in collection and reduce the possibility of introduction of biological agents into the water supply. The system was past its useful life and had developed many leaks. The repair and replacement program took place over an eleven year span from 1990 through 2001. Virtually the entire collection system has been rebuilt with new piping, new spring boxes, and collection points adjusted to correspond to the existing springs.
The City also instituted a program to reduce the loss of water through evaporation and leakage within the storage and delivery system. In 2001 we began to cover and line the three major open-air potable water reservoirs (storage totaling 180 million gallons) with heavy-duty plastic. The last reservoir was completed in the spring of 2003. The combined effect of this program has been a loss prevention of up to 1.44 million gallons a day during the summer months, and up to 600 acre-feet per year, see the Memorandum of Kevin Heberle, Chief Engineer, City of Alamogordo. The water savings occur continuously, but are especially effective during the hot and windy summer season. In addition to the evaporative savings, the City had knowledge through the subsurface monitoring that during the summer of 1999 & 2000 the largest reservoir had developed leaks that seeped 200,000+ gallons per day. The liner installation has stopped all leakage. This is the only reservoir cover/lining in use that we are aware of in the State of New Mexico. The City has reconditioned three of its steel tank reservoirs in the last five years. The inspection and reconditioning process did not reveal leakage problems, but this type of preventative maintenance will avoid leakage from this source. The City is also continuing development of the reclaimed water system. We have completed covering of the reclaimed water reservoirs. This will allow us to use more reclaimed water when consumption is high. Currently, our reclaimed water use is a “use it or lose it” scenario.
The City instituted an active in-house pipeline replacement program throughout the City in 1999. The replacement program is done through use of City crews for small projects and private contractors for major projects. Through this program, more than 16 miles of pipeline have been replaced or added. The pipeline replacement program is an ongoing program. See photo exhibits in the supporting documents.
The City recognized that the amount of pressure maintained within the system can have a direct impact on the amount of water used by the public. This is especially important in Alamogordo due to the terrain of the City; it is built on a sloping hill with the water being gravity fed. Water pressure is much higher at the bottom of the hill than the top. Excessive pressure can cause leaks to occur and more water to be lost through leaks. It is also necessary to maintain an adequate pressure to ensure that water-use devices operate properly. To address this situation the City has been divided into four pressure zones, which create a restricted pressure within each zone. These zones move from the highest elevations down the hill. Each zone is maintained between 50lbs at the top of the zone to 100lbs at the bottom of the zones.
The City has worked with the United States Air Force to replace the old and unreliable water delivery line from Bonito Lake to the City. This line was originally installed in the 1950s and had outlived its service period. The line had become undependable and frequently developed large leaks that required shutting down and draining the line. The Air Force and the City jointly worked to secure the necessary Federal appropriations for replacement of the line.
During the 1980s and early 1990s the residents of the City had used the City’s referendum process to prevent water rate increases. In June of 1993 the City filed a Writ of Mandamus in New Mexico State District Court to void the latest referendum petition. An Appeal went to the New Mexico Supreme Court, which ruled in January of 1996 that the setting of rates was an administrative process and not subject to the referendum process. This decision permitted the City to begin using rates as a tool to encourage conservation of water and raise the public awareness of the value of water. The Commission did adopt a policy of annual review and upgrading of water rates in 1998. In 2000 the City moved away from a flat rate billing system, the Commission approved an increasing block system of rates (Ordinance No. 1106). This had an immediate impact on decreasing the consumption of water by residential customers. During the summer of 2002 the City experienced a continuing drop in the supply of water and implemented emergency steps to curtail the use of water. One of these actions involved surcharges on top of the existing increasing block system. The result was an average daily decrease in water usage of one and one half million gallons per day. There were other restrictions in addition to surcharges, such as reduced days and times of watering. In December of 2002 the Commission revised the increasing block rate ordinance to provide for additional higher priced levels of blocks and modified the amount of usage on each of the levels. In 2003 the Commission placed surcharges as a permanent part of the Rationing Ordinance. Rates have been increased every year since. The Commission has clearly established the policy of use of rates as a method to encourage conservation of water.
The City Commission in 1995 adopted the First Water Conservation Ordinance, No. 948, which established days and times when outdoor watering would be permitted. It also established other methods of reducing consumption such as, automatic shutoffs of hoses, requiring recirculation equipment on pools, reduced size bleeder lines on evaporative coolers, and water on request in restaurants. The original Ordinance also defined water wasting, prohibited the practice, and established a fine for violation of the Ordinance. The Commission has upgraded the Water Conservation Ordinance multiple times. Each upgrade has tightened standards to conserve water and has reduced the permissible uses of water. Presently, covers are required on pools when not in use, decorative outdoor fountains are not allowed, restrictions on washing of vehicles have been imposed, and restrictions exist on the amount of landscaped areas allowed for new construction. During the 2002 water rationing, the Commission rewrote the enforcement procedures. This resulted in almost instantaneous compliance as immediate charges were placed on the water bills for noncompliance. Enforcement is accomplished through the use of a broad group of City employees, who are out in the field, including: code enforcement personnel, animal control officers, police officers, and meter readers. This provision has now been made a permanent part of the Water Conservation and the Water Rationing Ordinances.
The Water Rationing Ordinance, No. 1008, was adopted in 1997 to provide for greatly reduced use of water if and when the available water supplies were diminished. This ordinance provides for increasing restrictive use of water as the available supplies diminish. The Ordinance was amended in 2003 to incorporate automatic surcharges in stage two rationing (there are three stages). The trigger points were also re-established in 2003 to allow better forecasting methods. All relevant water Ordinances are attached in the Appendix.
The City embarked on an aggressive use of reclaimed water in the mid-1990s. The City has routed reclaimed water to the municipal golf course, the City’s Walker Ball Fields, and the soccer complex. Since 2000, the City has continued to expand the reclaimed water program and now virtually all city green space uses reclaimed water including the high school athletic fields, one junior high athletic field, the City’s Griggs Ball Fields, two cemeteries, all major City parks and green spaces, the landscaping on city buildings, and the zoo. The City has spent approximately $4.3 million in local funding on this project, saving valuable potable water while still preserving the quality of life that is provided by parks and leisure areas. Additionally, the City requires the construction industry to use reclaimed water for construction purposes (dust control and settlement). Reclaimed water is sold to contractors. They must sign up for a meter with the Utility Billing Department. The City uses reclaimed water in the Public Works yard for cleaning of equipment, for any City repair work on streets, and for fire services equipment testing. During peak-use summer months, the entire system is able to utilize up to three million gallons of reclaimed water per day. In the winter we use an average of two million gallons per day. The net result has been to shift from potable water to reclaimed water. Approximately 1/2 billion gallons of reclaimed water were used in 2004. We are using one tenth of the potable water we used 7 years ago. This system has allowed us to drop city water account use of potable water from approximately 92,604,530 gallons in 1999 to 9,220,332 gallons in 2005. Recent updates to the reclaimed water system include the addition of a one million gallon storage tank. This increases our storage capacity for reclaimed water to 2.5 million gallons.
In 2004, the Department of Public Safety/ Fire Services implemented innovative methods to conduct required equipment testing. They built a pump test facility and installed an in-ground tank to re-circulate fire truck testing water. A modified surplus tanker is used for hydrant flushing. Water is captured by the tanker, released into the sewer system, and used in our reclaimed water program. 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. These testing methods save tens of thousands of gallons per year. This savings estimate is based upon past usage for the required tests.
The City has used several methods to communicate with the public on our conservation programs and the need to conserve water. First, the press has been a major component of the efforts to convey information to the public; they regularly cover meetings, have produced special features on conservation programs, and continue to publish daily information on reservoir levels, water use, and watering schedules. In Alamogordo the local paper is a major source of information concerning events and activities within the community. Secondly, the City uses direct mail information to help educate and inform the public of programs, problems, and solutions. The City publishes and sends out a monthly newsletter to every address in the City of Alamogordo. Since 1999 every issue of the newsletter has contained an article or tip on water conservation. The three most recent editions of the City Profile are in the Appendix. The City also uses the monthly water bill to convey information to the public. A small space was provided on the former bills to send information to the public. The City reformatted the bills in 2003 to include more information to the public. The new bills contain graphs showing the current month’s usage and twelve months of history for the account. The bills have also been modified to display usage information in both cubic feet and in gallons. See attached example of bills in the Appendix. Feed-back indicated that most users did not understand how much water is in a cubic foot and frequently equated a cubic foot with one gallon. The third method the City uses is through example and education. The City has xeriscaped areas around the community to demonstrate how an area can be attractively landscaped without the use of wet weather plants. The City is also changing its irrigation systems to increase efficiency and effectiveness. Although most of the City landscaping uses reclaimed water, we feel it is still important to demonstrate the importance of conservation. Educational information is provided through a wide variety of forums each year. Free xeriscaping information is available through Keep Alamogordo Beautiful. This year the City held a Town Hall meeting on July 6, 2006 to discuss all aspects of our water supply status and our conservation program. About 200 citizens attended the meeting. A rain-barrel water harvesting system was given away as a door prize.
The net effect of all of these steps has been to reduce per capita consumption and annual total consumption. The 1990 per capita figure was 245.54 gpcd. Alamogordo’s highest per capita use was in 1992, at 261.28 gpcd. The 2003 figure was 125.47 gpcd, and 2005 usage measured 113.07 gpcd. The 1990 figure was on the upper end of the scale for southwestern cities, but our latest figures are among the lowest in southwestern cities. The City of Albuquerque’s most recent per capita use figure is 177 GPCD (2005).
The City of Alamogordo has been recognized for its conservation efforts statewide as well as nationally. In February of 2006 we were awarded the U.S. Conference of Mayor’s Municipal Water Conservation Achievement Award. This recognition comes with a $5,000 award, which the City reinvested into its conservation program by purchasing incentives and educational materials.
The City is proud of what has been accomplished in reducing the GPCD, our people have been required to reduce their consumption and their quality of life due to the lack of water supplies to an extent not forced upon any other community in the Tularosa Basin and below most communities in the Southwest. The City commission has adopted a standard of 165 GPCD as a reasonable goal for the City that allows a reasonable lifestyle while recognizing that Alamogordo is in the desert and can not use unlimited water.
The following sections will provide backup and additional discussion on each of the areas mentioned above.
Per Capita Use
The City of Alamogordo calculates average daily use by adding every month’s total diversions and dividing that figure by 365. We divide that number by our estimated population, which is derived by averaging growth between the 1990 and 2000 Censuses and adding a yearly growth percentage factor. The per capita figure also considers Holloman Air Force Base system users. Per capita use is a convenient tool for comparing communities. The difficulty is that it is not necessarily a good tool to use. While it may be used in a general sense for comparison, entities often calculate it with different parameters. Also, the differences between communities must be kept in mind. There are many factors that affect the per capita rate: number and types of businesses - some types of manufacturing use much greater amounts of water than others and they employ population from areas outside the municipality, elevations - higher elevations are cooler and use less water for climate control, temperature and rainfall which can have a significant impact on a seasonal basis, mix of residential to non residential accounts, etc.
The data in the following table was taken from the City of Albuquerque’s Water Conservation Program Overview, and provides a very general comparison of Southwest cities:
Per Capita use in 2001
Santa Fe 143
El Paso 163
Las Vegas 319
Based upon this information the City of Alamogordo is performing very well. Despite the number of factors that may impact the per capita measurement tool, it is a gauge that may be used to measure progress in achieving conservation of water. Looking at the highest per capita rate of 261.28 gpcd from 1992, compared to the 2005 figure of 113.07 gpcd, usage was cut approximately 57% during a population growth of about 9,500 (local estimated population based on average growth between the 1990 and 2000 Censuses). If we use the 2000 Census Bureau population estimate (35,582 plus outside City limits users of 400) and apply it to water usage in 2005, we will get a more conservative figure for per capita usage: 123.117 gpcd. Furthermore, if we were to look at strictly residential use alone, the numbers would be even lower. Based on consumption records maintained by the Utility Billing Department, residential use has averaged approximately 77.5% of the City’s total usage in the past 5 years, see report in Appendix. In 2002 residential use was 78.39% of the total consumption billed, which calculates to a residential-only per capita rate down to 105.36 gpcd. Based on 77.5%, the 2005 residential-only per capita use was 87.6 gpcd. There is very limited ability to further reduce consumption through conservation programs.
The chart below [see link] shows the trend of Alamogordo’s overall per capita usage, not just residential use. This chart was created from untreated total water production history charts and per capita estimate records, which are included in the Appendix. While this chart highlights the conservation efforts of the community it also needs to be noted that the harsh rationing steps were required to meet the lack of water supply.
per capita graph
Measurement and Meter Replacement Program
To determine whether a water conservation program is working, it is necessary to have accurate measurements on the use of water. The City of Alamogordo recognized this early in the process and installed water meters on all potable water use. Reclaimed water is also metered, but this has been done incrementally.
The City of Alamogordo elected to install meters that measure based upon cubic foot (cf.) of usage. While the measurement method (cf. vs. gallons) normally does not matter, our experience is that most individuals do not have a conceptual picture of how much water is in a cubic foot; hence they frequently equate it with one gallon. Actually it is approximately 7.48 gallons. This perception has led individuals to believe their water usage is very low, however when shown the conversion to gallons they are shocked at the amount of water being used. The City of Alamogordo addressed this with a new billing format. It now displays the information both in cubic feet and in gallons, a much more cost efficient method of addressing the concern than changing the entire system over to meters that read in gallons. Business and commercial users do not seem to be affected by this information.
The City of Alamogordo also has a meter replacement program, which has replaced about 3,000 meters in the last seven years. This program is important to provide accurate readings within the system. Water meters are mechanical devices in which moving water turns a wheel to operate a gauge. As the meter ages, the measurement slows down due to friction and wear, hence the older the meter the greater the tendency to under-read the actual amount of water passing through the device. Companies that perform tests on meters indicated the normal amount of loss is approximately 3.88% in older meters. Eventually the meter will stop functioning. This under-reading inhibits us from knowing and properly responding to the water needs of the community. The under-reading also inflates the amount of water that appears to be lost due to leaks in the system. Faulty meters between the reservoirs and the treatment plant had been progressively reading high for production, by as much as 12%, which was skewing real water loss figures significantly over the last few years.
To further develop consumer confidence in the system, the City of Alamogordo reads every meter every month. The meters are read and data is input into handheld recording devices, which are downloaded daily. We maintain a window of reading between 29 and 33 days to permit flexibility for holidays, weekends, illness, or other unforeseen circumstances. This is an area where individuals frequently question the City’s accuracy, and demonstration has proven to be the most effective tool to educate the public. The billing system has additional safe guards that check the readings against the same meter in the same period a year prior and automatically produce an error report for unusual high or low fluctuations, which are then rechecked.
Repair and Replacement Program
The City initiated a major repair and maintenance program of the surface water collection system in the La Luz/Fresnal Canyons in the mid-1980s. The first portions were done by City of Alamogordo crews. It was later determined that this was not the most cost efficient manner to accomplish the project and the City hired private contractors to continue and finish the work. Since much of this early work was not tracked as a project, but buried in the operating cost of the Public Works Department, the costs of this portion of the repair and maintenance are difficult to certify. The estimated cost is $30,000.00.
The City replaced virtually all of the rusted lines in the surface water collection system with new lines at a cost of $1,803,045. These lines are sized to only allow the maximum diversion allowed under the City’s water right. The City also reworked the spring collection areas at a cost of $1,100,556. All repairs and maintenance were done with the approval of the Office of the State Engineer. The City also repaired the Alamo Canyon Pipeline in the 1980s. The estimated cost was $2,542,700. The line undergoes periodic inspection and maintenance. Repairs were made to the Bonito Dam during the 1980s in the amount of $504,500 and additional maintenance was completed in Fiscal Year 2002 in the amount of $136,723.
The City repaired the Bonito Pipeline from the Bonito Dam to the community of Nogal in 1993 and 1995, under two separate programs, at a cost of $551,219 and $726,525 respectively, for a total cost of $1,277,744. The City owns this section of the Bonito pipeline. The City has assisted the Air Force in securing appropriations in the amount of $15 million to replace the line between the Town of Carrizozo and the La Luz Water Treatment Plant. This section of the Bonito pipeline is owned by the Air Force. This section had weakened over time and had become very susceptible to breaks. This project was completed in the spring of 2003.
When the water entered the City’s main reservoir complex it was stored in three open-air reservoirs, consisting of two 40 million-gallon earth/clay reservoirs, and a 100 million-gallon concrete lined reservoir. The City measured the normal evaporation from the surface areas of these reservoirs. It was estimated that during a normal summer season the City was losing an estimated 1.44 million gallons of water per day, due to the combined effects of evaporation and leakage. The concrete lined reservoir is new and has monitoring devices to detect leakage; however the older reservoirs do not have such equipment. The newer reservoir developed leaks in 1998 and 1999 which were leaking more than 200,000 gallons of water each day, emergency repairs were performed each year and permanent repairs each winter. The loss through the older reservoirs was unknown, although when they were emptied and cleaned, leakage damage could be detected. The City has lined and covered all reservoirs, at a cost of $1,970,000. This has resulted in a savings of between 500-600 AFY. For more details, see the March 21, 2003 report of Kevin Heberle, Chief Engineer, in the Appendix.
The distribution line from our green reservoir (a steel tank) into the City was replaced in 1996 at a cost of $1,336,766. There are steel tanks throughout the City to provide a buffer for peak flows and for pressure equalization. These tanks undergo rehabilitation to ensure they are safe and are not leaking. The green reservoir was rehabilitated in 1987 at a cost of $510,000. Three of the other tanks have been rehabilitated since 1998 at a cost of $700,000.
The City has also committed to numerous water system infrastructure replacement programs within the city limits in the past few years. In 1996, $551,806 was spent in waterline replacement; in 1997, $175,817; in 2001, $666,508; and in 2002, $379,027; in 2005, $497,974; and in 2006, $2,666,665. Additionally, we have expended almost $1,547,000 on the Westside Water Infrastructure Improvements Program.. City crews and contractors have installed approximately 16 miles of replacement line throughout the City during the period 1999-2004.
Use of Rates
The City’s rate system for water use has historically consisted of two parts. First, a base fee was established dependent upon the size of the meter hooked to the system. This fee was charged every month without regard to the volume of water used. The theory was that the system has a high fixed cost (bond payments, capital expenses, and required staff for operations) that must be paid regardless of the volume of water sold. The second component of the rates was a commodity charge, which was based upon the volume of water used. In June of 1998, the base fee on the smallest size meter was $8.64 per month. The commodity charge was a flat fee of 74 cents per 100 cubic foot (cf) of water. The effect of this structure was that individuals did not detect much difference in their water bill as their consumption changed. The problem was further compounded because the sewer bill and the solid waste bill, both fixed monthly amounts, were also on the same monthly bill; hence the individuals had a large “fixed component” and only a small variable component. The City had begun using regular small annual rate increases, normally equal to the cost of living, after the successful court case in the mid-1990s. In early 1999, the Commission approved an increase larger than the cost of living increase, in order to develop more money for capital replacement programs in the water and sewer fund. This appears to have had an immediate impact in dropping usage during the peak summer months of 1999, but in 2000 the demand picked up above the 1999 levels.
In January 2001 the Commission adopted an inclining rate structure, (Ordinance 1106). This system, also known as the “tier system” uses the fixed base fee. It also established the first tier of water usage at a modest charge: 100-1500 cf at $.84/ 100 cf, usage from 1600-2500 cf at $1.20/ 100 cf, and $1.50/ 100 cf for 2600 cf and over. The City’s inclining block rate system had an immediate and dramatic impact as the per capita use dropped 28.21 gpcd from 2000 to 2001. The Commission also received significant feedback from the higher-consumption users during this summer. In December of 2001, the Commission approved Ordinance 1129, an adjustment to the tier system which raised the commodity charges for the 3 tiers to $.85/100 cf, $1.25/100 cf, and $1.60/100 cf. The effectiveness of this increase is difficult to determine. January through April of 2002 actually showed an increase in per capita usage of 22.5%. However these are low volume months; they were also very warm months. In the early months of 2002, the City realized that we could not provide the necessary water to supply the community’s needs at the same level as the previous year. This was due to declining surface flows from the continuing drought. In April of 2002, the Commission passed a “Surcharge Ordinance,” No. 1148 in an effort to reduce consumption. Surcharges were enacted as follows: between 1200-1500 cf an additional $.50/100 cf, 1600-2500 cf $3.00/100 cf, and over 2500 cf $5.00/100 cf. This again had an immediate impact on water use for the year. The per capita consumption dropped from 155.29 gpcd in 2001 to 134.41 gpcd for 2002, a difference of 20.88 gpcd.
In December of 2002, the Commission revised the tier system with Ordinance 1168. A fourth tier was established from 4100-5000 cf and a rate set at $3.30/100 cf; and a fifth tier was established for consumption above 5100 cf, at a rate of $5.00/100 cf. In 2006, the rate for tier 1 is $1.06/100cf and for tier 5 is $6.10/100cf. All figures above represent the charge for a ¾” meter, which make up the vast majority of the City’s meters. Larger size meters have different tier parameters. The current rate system still utilizes 5 tiers. The current rate structure is included in the Appendix.
Conservation and Rationing Ordinances and Approaches
The Commission adopted the first Water Conservation and Rationing Ordinance, No. 948, in June of 1995. Since that time the sections have been modified, redefined, and tightened through several revisions. In April of 2002, the Commission adopted Ordinance 1148 as an emergency step to reduce usage of water. This is the Ordinance which set the surcharges, as discussed above. Ordinance 1148 streamlined the enforcement provisions of the water conservation and rationing sections. This permitted a charge to be immediately placed upon the water bill, which seemed to have the effect of gaining much greater compliance. This Ordinance placed additional restrictions on development, swimming pools, and car washes. In August 2002 the Commission adopted Ordinance 1161 to further tighten water usage, and refined it in September 2002 with the passage of Ordinance 1162. The major short-term impact of these Ordinances was to reduce the times and days of outdoor watering. This, in conjunction with the enforcement provisions, had a great impact in reducing water use and caused a great deal of outcry from the community. During the winter of 2002-2003, the City maintained one day a week watering. This reduced water usage, permitted the City to stop pumping the wells, allowed some recharge to the underground aquifer, and allowed the filling of the surface reservoirs. Ordinances 1168 and 1175 further amended Chapter 28 of the Code of Ordinances pertaining to water, sewer, and reclaimed water rates and emergency rationing. In 2003, Ordinance 1186 added a section to the Code to allow for the City Manager’s authority to restrict water use during periods of unusual circumstances. In July 2004, Ordinance 1204 added a section to enact fees for noncompliance. Ordinances 1208 and 1210 deal with recently added ancillary charges. Ordinance 1224 is the most recent amendment to the rate schedule. See all the City Water Ordinances in the supporting documents.
Throughout the City there has been a noticeable conversion of landscaping from lush Midwest-type landscaping to more southwestern style plantings and rock gardens. This should result in a permanent reduction in water consumption. However, as the various conservation steps listed above have taken effect, it has become increasingly difficult to find the next gallon of water to conserve. The City, in November 2001, put in place its first rebate program for low flow toilets for individuals. The program was extended and the Commission additionally made the program available to commercial entities. Since implementation, there have been 660 replacements completed to date. In 2003, it was estimated that the net savings from the replacement program were approximately 2.4 million gallons of water per year. The City has also distributed free low flow shower heads and volunteers have installed 149 low flow shower heads in Public Housing units. Other types of incentives are being discussed, such as replacement of evaporative coolers with refrigerated air, replacement of landscaping, and replacement of inefficient washing machines. However at this time it is felt there are other more cost efficient uses of City resources. The City government converted all of its toilets to low flow prior to 2003 and the City installed waterless Urinals in the City Hall building in 2006.. See agenda report on Toilet Replacement Program in the Appendix The Department of Public Safety/ Fire Services implemented several innovative approaches to conserving water while complying with required equipment testing. They built a pump test facility and installed an in-ground tank to re-circulate fire truck testing water. A modified surplus tanker is used for hydrant flushing. Water captured by the tanker is re-used in our reclaimed water program. 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. These testing methods save tens of thousands of gallons per year, based upon previous years’ testing.
Reclaimed Water Use
As the City looked to the future water resources of our community, we came to realize the limited supplies were going to have to be stretched as far as possible to meet the needs of the people. This immediately suggested that the quality of life would have to decline. The Commission wanted to maintain the quality of life in our community to the greatest extent possible. Parks and open areas create an oasis in the desert of southern New Mexico. To address this issue, the Commission adopted an innovative approach. The City took waste from the sewer treatment plan, the disposal of which was costing the City money, and turned it into a useful resource: reclaimed water. The initial steps were taken in the mid 1990s as the City developed and expanded the golf course. Recognizing that potable water was too scarce of a resource to be used, the City extended distribution lines and used pump stations to transport treated wastewater to the golf course. On the way to the golf course the line was routed past the Walker ball fields. These fields were also being expanded to satisfy the demands of the community and to help develop the economic base of the community through tournaments. These projects proved very successful in permitting the City to provide for the quality of life the residents of Alamogordo and the environs wanted, without putting an additional demand on the limited water resources of the Tularosa Basin. The next demand came from the school system, as they needed to expand the athletic fields, specifically for soccer. The City extended the reclaimed water lines and pump stations to the north and east. Not stopping at the new soccer complex, the City extended the reclaimed lines to include a private cemetery, a City-operated cemetery, and Washington Park, removing them from the potable water system. In the late 1990s the value of using the reclaimed water became even more obvious. The City extended the reclaimed water system north through the Washington Ave/Oregon Ave greenbelt to Indian Wells, north to the Griggs Sports Complex, and west along Indian Wells greenbelt to Alameda Park, then turned south to the Alameda Park Zoo. See the Reclaimed Water Distribution Area Map in the Appendix.
City Water Accounts in Millions of Gallons - potable water use only. Source: Utility Billing
The City has spent over $4 million in developing the reclaimed water system, constructing 16.2 miles of pipeline, two booster stations, and is in the process of constructing a 1,000,000-gallon storage tank. The City is preparing to line the reservoir to prevent any leakage. This system has permitted the City to reduce potable water use significantly. Peak use of reclaimed water can be up to 3 million gallons per day during the summer. The preceding chart and table clearly shows the decline in the City’s use of potable water. Unfortunately, during 1999 a major leak developed in the waterfowl pond at the zoo, requiring a lengthy repair period. This pond now uses reclaimed water. In 2006 a new reclaimed reservoir was added to the system; paid half by local and half through a State grant.
Public Outreach and Education
Recognizing that one of the most important elements of a successful water conservation program is encouraging the public to take steps to conserve and protect the resource, the City has an active and comprehensive approach in its outreach efforts. The City’s goal is to supply our residents with the information they need to make wise water-use decisions through education about the future of conserving water, protecting our water resources, and guiding their actions for years to come.
The City promotes and participates in a wide variety of activities within the community through the development and implementation of a variety of educational programs and other methods of public outreach to inform, encourage, and reinforce the importance of water conservation. The City is committed to being involved in many activities to increase the public’s awareness of water conservation. The City has partnered with Sierra Elementary school to offer a Water wise Program, in which 3rd graders are given free water conservation kits. It is an interactive water conservation Program that tracks water use, teaches conservation methods, and provides each family with a free shower head and free leak detection kit.
In July 2006, the City held a Town Hall meeting to discuss all aspects of our water supply status and our conservation program. About 200 citizens attended the meeting. A rain barrel water harvesting system was given away as a door prize. The City regularly promotes water conservation education at environmental exhibits and events where a large and diverse segment of the population is reached. Programs that occur annually include the Arbor Day Celebration in March, the Community Earth Day Festival in April, and the Otero County Fair in August. Many area schools hold water education events in which the City participates. Water conservation information, brochures and other literature are given out at these events. Speaking engagements are made continually throughout the year to members of the Chamber of Commerce, service organizations, gardening groups, and other civic and community groups through the City Manager’s office and the Keep Alamogordo Beautiful (KAB) program. KAB also provides citizen information and workshops regarding xeriscaping. Water conservation through landscaping with low water use plants is encouraged and demonstrated through City xeriscape gardens. These gardens are located in several visible areas around the City. We are demonstrating the use of a product called “Dri-Water” at the Visitor Center Garden and the medians along White Sands Boulevard. See photos in the Appendix.
Through our hospitality program, local restaurants have table tents with the water conservation message and only serve water upon request. The City has provided free reminder notices to local lodgings for their guests to request clean towels and sheet changes, rather than to have them laundered each day, in an effort to conserve water. The City checks with the hotels periodically to see if more notices are needed.
In addition to these types of programs, the water conservation message is spread further through monthly conservation messages on the back of water bills, radio announcements, local newspaper articles, in the City Profile which is our quarterly newsletter that is mailed to each residence, and the City’s Annual Water Quality Report. See samples of the Water Quality Report and the City Profile in the Appendix.
The City of Alamogordo will continue to emphasize and encourage water conservation. This is our duty as a responsible community in the arid Southwest, and it will continue to be necessary due to characteristic long periods of drought. However, Alamogordo has done much already to achieve significant results in responsible water conservation and may in fact be reaching a plateau, where further water restrictions are no longer possible while maintaining a reasonable quality of life. Currently, we are the only municipality in the State that has covered and lined our reservoirs and have instituted 100% use of reclaimed water during the bulk of the year.
The City has spent, and continues to spend each year, millions of dollars to develop and maintain the water collection and delivery system as an efficient and effective system. The City has aggressively used public information and education to foster wise use of the water resource, including the revamping of the billing format. The City utilizes reclaimed water and other innovative methods to maintain the quality of life. Reclaimed water has replaced the use of potable water for construction activities. The City uses rates as a method to encourage conservation, through the increasing block rate structure. The City has adopted and has enforced conservation steps and rationing stages to further restrict the use of water during shortages.
Alamogordo averaged 226.03 gpcd in the 1990s and has averaged 149.69 gpcd in the first 4 years of this decade. The New Mexico Office of the State Engineer estimates a reasonable residential per capita use goal for Alamogordo would be 124.73 gpcd. Based upon total untreated water production, a water-user estimate of 37,579 people, and the Utility Billing Department’s residential-use data: Alamogordo’s residential per capita rate in 2002 was 105.36 gpcd. In 2003 it was 99.397 gpcd. See the Estimate on reasonable Per Capital Residential Use Goal in the supporting documents. This is not a reasonable level of usage, and while it has been necessary to match the Supply and demand within the system the realistic long term goal of 165 gpcd is the minimum level the City needs to provide to assure the basic life, safety and welfare needs of the community.
Continued Conservation is, has been, and will remain a tool used by the City to exercise wise stewardship of our water resources. However, continued conservation will not be sufficient to provide for the future needs of the community, nor is it adequate to provide security during this period of drought. The City must secure additional sources of water to provide for the current and future needs of the people of Alamogordo.