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Prior to moving to Los Alamos, I worked for a small business that contracted conservation services to many utility providers across the Southwest, including the Albuquerque and Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (ABCWUA). During that time, Albuquerque witnessed a 30-percent decrease in its overall water consumption, totaling more than 100 billion gallons saved – enough water to serve the needs for the county of Los Alamos for more than 70 years.
The average water consumption fell from a whopping 250 gallons per person per day to only 174 gallons per person per day. In comparison, Los Alamos’ current average consumption is 157 gallons per person per day. The success of the conservation initiatives can be attributed to many different factors, such as visionary civic leaders, large-budget public relations programs and committed government agencies. However, the ABCWUA’s conservation program could not have achieved these savings without the support of an additional key component: the development of enduring conservation partnerships.
In Los Alamos, the Department of Public Utilities conservation strategy plans to prioritize the development of a combination of partnerships starting with the most important of entities, our customers. Every time a customer participates in a conservation program or chooses to engage in an activity that changes behavior resulting in conservation, a partnership is born.
For example, earlier this month I had the privilege to engage in such a relationship with the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service, and the Girl Scouts and Brownie Scouts of America. Together, we were able to distribute 110 water conservation kits capable of saving nearly 39,000 gallons per year per home that participated in the program. Scouts learned about the value of water in our community and conducted home water conservation surveys, all while earning their water conservation badges.
Our partnerships must not focus entirely on the residential sector. In order to achieve maximum results, it is imperative that we include all customer classes in the program. For instance, utilities is in the process of facilitating a grant from the Bureau of Reclamation and the Office of the State Engineer to provide free low-flow dish-spray rinse nozzles to our local restaurants.
In addition, two new partnerships with the EPA’s Energy Star and Water Sense programs will offer services to all of our customers, helping us promote energy-efficient products but also to baseline our consumption and compare it to national averages.
While utilities is just one of the 12,000 organizations that are partnered with the Energy Star Program, it will be one of the first in the nation to provide its customers with this automated benchmarking service. Facilities with an average water, electric and natural gas consumption below 75 percent of use for similar facilities around the nation will receive the Energy Star certification, and those that consume more than other facilities can employ this service, in combination with other conservation programs, to reduce overall consumption of water electricity and natural gas.
Another new partnership includes the EPA’s WaterSense Program. The WaterSense program aims to decrease indoor and outdoor water use through water-efficient products and simple water-saving practices. The program also encourages customers to look for WaterSense-labeled products, which have been independently certified for efficiency and performance, and promotes water-saving techniques that reduce stress on water systems and the environment. The certification process is still ongoing; customers should look for the WaterSense labels in 2009.
Utilities’ conservation program will continue to create, encourage and facilitate successful partnerships within the county, state and across the nation. I am reminded of a time a few years ago when a customer asked, “Why should I have to conserve when no one else would?” I could understand where this customer might have been coming from. We often feel powerless, or that we cannot achieve such massive conservation goals ourselves. But the truth of the matter is quite contrary to such a feeling; we are not alone, the power is ours – literally – and together we can make a difference.
Matthew Dickens is the water and energy conservation officer for the Los Alamos County Department of Public Utilities.