Last chance to rate conservation options

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By Arin McKenna


The Los Alamos County Sustainability and Energy and Water Conservation Plans are nearing completion, but residents have one last chance to vote on their preferred methods of conservation. Information is posted on the county's Open Forum, including links to the plans and a survey to prioritize various strategies. The survey closes at 5 p.m. Friday.

The survey consists of seven options each for water conservation, energy conservation and waste/recycling. The strategies were developed through public input from a sustainability forum held in November 2011, an eight-person advisory board on water and energy conservation and the Environmental Sustainability Board and the Board of Public Utilities.

Department of Public Utilities Conservation Coordinator Christine Chavez wanted a wide range of opinions on the advisory board, so it included citizens who were "not keen on conservation."

"I thought it would be better to gather that input beforehand," Chavez said. "And I think it was an effective strategy, because if there were any misconceptions they were cleared up then and not later."

Chavez called the committee a "guiding force" in the development of the DPU plan. She also plans to get their input on the final document.

So far 72 people have visited the Open Forum page and approximately 25 have taken the survey.

Chavez andEnvironmental Services Specialist Tom Nagawiecki also solicited feedback at two public meetings in February, which were attended by approximately 45 people. Meeting participants were able to vote on their top three strategies in each category. Chavez and Nagawiecki said that some of the results were unexpected.

"Tiered water rates received a surprising amount of support," Nagawiecki said. "It was reassuring to see that the community was behind that effort to conserve."

Chavez said that Los Alamos is one of the few municipalities and/or counties in New Mexico or the Southwest that does not employ this incentive. Tiered rates have proven to be very successful in encouraging water conservation. Santa Fe and Albuquerque have both seen significant impact since implementing tiered rates, with Santa Fe's approach being particularly aggressive.

Nagawiecki was also surprised that a similar concept for waste reduction, Pay-As-You-Throw, received significantly less support.

"That may indicate the necessity of education," Nagawiecki said. "I think many people are afraid that if you increase rates for trash collection it will lead to illegal dumping and other side effects. But studies have shown that in communities that follow the laws–as ours does–that is really not an issue."

Strategies such as tiered water rates and Pay-As-You-Throw would require council approval to be implemented, and would likely require grants or other funding to provide incentives.

The results of the survey and public meetings will determine which strategies are implemented first, with the top ranking options prioritized. The plans will set the course for achieving the county's conservation and sustainability goals.

The Sustainability Plan is designed to meet council's strategic goal "to enhance environmental quality and sustainability."

The Energy and Water Quality Plan must not only offer an avenue for achieving DPU's conservation objectives, it must meet State and Federal requirements set by the Office of the State Engineer and the Western Area Power Association.

One of the first steps in developing the plans was to establish consistent baselines. These were established using information collected between 2006 and 2012.

"That was one of the biggest efforts, trying to extract that data from our billing system and use it to develop these strategies," Chavez said. "It's so the residents can understand what's been happening in the past and how these goals were developed and what types of consumption patterns we've seen in the community thus far."

After the plans meet all required governmental approve and are published, both departments will begin implementing some of the conservation measures. Progress will be assessed and goals updated on an annual basis.

"We can start working on the strategies that the public has identified through the public outreach  and start working on programs to hopefully help conserve energy or increase the amount we recycle or whatever the specific target may be," Nagawiecki said.

The Board of Public Utilities reviews the Energy and Water Conservation plan at 5:30 p.m. March 20 in the DPU conference room, 170 Central Park Square.  The Sustainability Plan comes before the Environmental Sustainability Board at 5:30 p.m. March 21 in the community building training room.