4 Investigates: Water Authority backs off fining water wasters
April 10, 2019 10:21 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- In New Mexico’s high desert, water is like liquid gold.
Conservation has long been a top priority in Albuquerque and those efforts to reduce water waste appear to be working. Albuquerque residents cut their water use, per capita, in half over the past 25 years but the metro area continues to face problems with water wasters.
4 Investigates obtained a year’s worth of records for water waste violations in the Albuquerque area, which reveal some of the top offenders in 2018.
The Canyon Transitional Rehab Center near Montgomery and Eubank was issued five violations last year due to an aging cooler tower that overflowed. The executive director reports that the troubled cooler tower was recently replaced. The rehab center racked up a total of $2,900 in fines.
Just down the road near San Mateo and Montgomery, the CVS Pharmacy was cited with four violations in 2018. Officials reported a malfunctioning irrigation system. 4 Investigates reached out to the Washington-based owners but have not heard back. The CVS property faced $2,800 in fines.
At the Sun Plaza Apartments, the property was given six violations due to an aging irrigation system. Water officials say the property owner is slowly upgrading that system after facing $1,400 in 2018.
The water waste fines served a purpose – to get water wasting businesses to follow the rules. However, starting this month, water officials are backing away from issuing fines. Instead, they’re focused on issuing warnings.
“I think it’s a win for everyone,” said Katherine Yuhas, a division manager with the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority.
“A lot of people in Albuquerque are used to – we had water cops, people were driving around looking for people watering in the wrong time of day,” said Yuhas. “We now actually have a warning system for our customers... so if water is going into the street, or if the water is going off at wrong times of the day you'll actually get a little blue post card in the mail.”
The Water Authority has been testing out the new approach for residential customers. Instead of focusing on fines, water authority workers are now focused on direct communication with customers. The agency is now also offering up new irrigation audits to help homeowners find ways to avoid water waste.
Albuquerque resident Keith Weaver says water conservation is a priority for his property. However, he worries other might not care that much.
“I think there is a place for fines or penalties,” said Weaver.
However, Yuhas points to the promising results from the pilot residential warning program.
“This has been so effective with our customers,” said Yuhas.
Data provided by the Water Authority shows 248 residential customers were issued a warning in 2018 but only 30 of those residents received a secondary warning. Even fewer were fined.
“Only five residential customers got a fine,” said Yuhas. “Everyone else got their problems fixed with a warning.”
Water officials say they’ve had so much success with residential customers, they’re now applying this new approach to commercial customers.
However, Yuhas admits dealing with corporate customers with out-of-state owners poses some challenges. For example, the CVS Pharmacy that was cited with violations in 2018 has not been responsive to fixing the problem.
“Even though we have this warning system in place, eventually we can go to the fine system … and that may get the attention of out-of-state companies” said Yuhas.
Still, the Water Authority is confident the new business warning system will work – helping to conserve the water our community desperately needs.
Updated: April 10, 2019 10:21 PM
Created: April 10, 2019 08:23 PM
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