Worst water waster: Albuquerque Parks and Recreation
Posted at: 09/12/2012 6:34 PM
| Updated at: 09/12/2012 11:28 PM
By: Peter St. Cyr and Gadi Schwartz, 4 On Your Side
Water conservation is supposed to be as easy as one, two, three. But, keeping the grass green and saving water isn’t as easy as public service announcements make it out to be.
A Four on Your Side investigation this summer in Albuquerque found taxpayers money going straight down the drain.
Topping the list of violators is the City of Albuquerque’s Park and Recretation Department. It racked up 143 water waste violations in the past 12 months.
“Parks is probably our number one violator,” said Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Use Authority Compliance Supervisor Carol Edwards.
Those violations cost taxpayers $42,680; money some people say could be used to hire another police officer, firefighter, bus drivers, and even more lifeguards.
After reviewing the citations and steep penalities, 4OYS' investigative team decided to spend part of the summer riding along with ABCWUA Water Compliance Inspector Brian Harvey.
His day starts before sunrise, and once he is patrolling the streets. it doesn’t take him long to find water use violations.
When Harvey finds broken sprinklers he issues 48-hour malfunction notices. They are similar to fix-it tickets. Then, he makes a note to reinspect the area. If the malfunctions are not fixed by the time Harvey returns the notice automatically turns into a citation.
Other times, when no malfunctions are detected, Harvey issues a citation and assesses a fine immediately. Each incident is recorded on video.
Like at Loma Del Norte Park.
'An unfortunate use of taxpayer dollars'
That park in Albuquerque’s Northeast heights has been cited seven times in the last year. Three citations were issued this July alone. So far, it has cost taxpayers $2,300, and that doesn’t include the actual water bill.
Loma Del Norte is not the city’s biggest violator.
4OYS learned the city has paid more than $23,270 for 18 violations at its traffic dividers along Lousianna, between Montgomery and Osuna.
Across town, medians along Ridgecrest received were cited for the 12th time in five years in August. The cost to taxpayers already totals $11,270 bill.
ABCWUA’s fines begin at $20, but jump to $1000 by the eight violation and double to $2,000 for the ninth and subsequent citations.
Albuquerque’s Park Management Superintendent James Dunn doesn’t like seeing the city cited for water waste.
“It's an unfortunate use of taxpayer dollars,” Dunn said.
The superintendent is quick to point out that many of the city’s older parks were built before conservation became a priority.
“A lot of those sites out there now that are getting those $2,000 fines now are sites that need an entire renovation on them,” Dunn said. “A lot of the parks…and a lot of the medians were designed back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. At that time the intent was to drain the water off the park, or sheet it off the park to prevent puddling."
Dunn said reconstruction costs could run up to $100,000 per acre.
Residents dont want grass removed
While the parks department waits for funding, they also have to educate neighborhoods about the real costs to maintain green spaces.
And that can be a tough sell because some communities don’t want to give up their grass, or lush medians. In fact, many residents resist any proposed renovations.
Xeriscaping doesn’t sit well with Bill Weber, who enjoys walking his dogs on the Ridgecrest dividers. He said people in the neighborhood don’t want any changes and definitely don’t want the grass removed.
“They tried to do that under the previous mayor and it didn’t happen,” Weber said, because “the medians are what make this neighborhood great.”
He suggests there wouldn’t be any fines if the city didn’t violate the law.
He’s not alone. Garry Davis, a retired school teacher, who lives near Loma Del Norte Park said he believes there wouldn’t be as many fines if the “head of this unit paid them out of his check.”
His group has applied for an exemption and is no longer paying fines for water overflow at the Louisiana dividers.
In May, the ABCWUA granted the exemption after the city submitted plans to correct the problems there. Construction is scheduled to begin late this fall and be completed next spring.
“We're kind of limited by funds available,” Dunn said. “We have a list of sites that are on our high priority list to get renovated.”
Dunn hopes it will reduce the amount of water the city uses.
Edwards hopes it works, too.
“I know they have budget constraints, but our children and grandchildren won’t have water if we keep running it down the road into the storm drains,” Edwards said.
- The City of Albuquerque used 1.8 million units of water in 2011. That’s more than $1.3 billion gallons.
- There are 294 parks and over 190 miles of traffic medians.
- Up to 30% of the city’s water use is lost due to evaporation and sprinkler inefficiencies.
- CABQ’s Fiscal Year 2012 Renovation projects:
Louisiana Medians - $192,000
Taylor Ranch Medians - $250,000
Ed Leslie Park - $450,000