Our Water Matters

Waterwise in Santa Fe

The city of Santa Fe has seen its per capita water use drop considerably since the 1990s. According to a presentation to the Santa Fe governing body by Water Conservation Manager Christine Chavez last September, the city has seen a 33% reduction in total water use since 1995 despite a 25% increase in the city’s population over the same period. The city’s gallons per capita per day (GPCD) plummeted from 170 gallons in 1995 to about 93 gallons today. 

This is due in part to the efforts of the city’s Water Conservation Committee, Water Conservation Office and the Santa Fe Green Chamber of Commerce, which developed the Certified Waterwise pilot program to target the city’s businesses. Following Ms. Chavez’s presentation last September, the city’s governing body voted unanimously to approve a contract with Santa Fe Community College, the city’s education partner that provides training and auditor certification for Santa Fe’s Certified Waterwise pilot program. The contract makes the pilot program permanent and paves the way for continued water savings by area businesses.

Based on California Energy Commission estimates that a typical restaurant uses about two million gallons per year, the Certified Waterwise pilot program began targeting these businesses back in 2018. Thirty restaurants were recruited to undergo water audits with the goal of identifying potential water conservation practices and upgrades that the restaurants could employ. The pilot program ended up saving a little over an acre-foot of water in the first year (about 450,000 gallons), proving that significant water savings are achievable.

But the pilot program encountered several challenges. One involved recruiting area businesses to undergo a water audit. This challenge was resolved through a partnership with the Santa Fe Green Chamber of Commerce that was in a better position to identify and recruit businesses into the pilot program. The need for a trained workforce to conduct the audits also became quickly apparent. This led to the creation of a water efficiency training program with badged certification through Santa Fe Community College. 

Another challenge involved submetering. While a standalone restaurant typically has its own water meter, many restaurants are in shopping centers that only have one master water meter. This means that restaurants in this context “are not aware of how much water they’re using,” according to Chavez, and any changes they might make would be difficult to gauge based on water usage. To solve this problem, a partnership was pursued with Beacon Group, manufacturer of the Badger submeter, which was then implemented at participating businesses.

To date, 18 water auditors have been trained and 12 have received certification. Within the city, 73 restaurants, five hotels, two shopping centers (41 businesses), and one museum have been audited and “Certified Waterwise,” saving the city some 2.1 million gallons of water annually. With more businesses interested in becoming certified every day, including vacation rentals, the city is also assessing how best to incorporate these enterprises into the Certified Waterwise program.

Even more water savings could be achieved, according to Glenn Schiffbauer, executive director of the Santa Fe Green Chamber of Commerce, once capacity is developed to conduct follow-up audits of Certified Waterwise businesses. This would enable an assessment of whether and how the businesses have actually implemented the recommendations of the initial audit and currently represents a “missing link” in the program, according to Schiffbauer.

When it comes to water savings, one of the biggest challenges is the detection and resolution of water leaks. According to Bob Wood, senior water conservation specialist with the city of Santa Fe, “It takes someone on average 11 weeks to identify and fix a water leak.” But with the EyeOnWater app, which is used in conjunction with Badger meters manufactured by Beacon Group, users can receive notification of a leak within 24 hours. This can then result in the repair of the leak usually within less than two weeks. The app can also be used to pinpoint water usage by individual appliance, time period or location. Santa Fe’s EyeOnWater program has been active since 2016 and has achieved 83 million gallons in water savings. But, according to Wood, only around 20% of area water customers are using the app. It is believed that water savings could be in the billions of gallons annually if more users could be convinced to install and use the app.

Learn more about all of Santa Fe’s water conservation efforts at savewatersantafe.com.

Trey Gerfers is a San Antonio native and serves as general manager of the Presidio County Underground Water Conservation District. He is also chairman of the Presidio County Water Infrastructure Steering Committee and president of the Marfa Parks and Recreation Board. Trey has lived in Marfa since 2013. He can be reached at [email protected]