By: Greg Gates, CH2M Water Resource Manager and John Stomp, III, Chief Operating Officer of the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority.

The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (Water Utility Authority) provides water and wastewater services to the greater Albuquerque metropolitan area. Located at the crossroads of the southwest, Albuquerque has been a desert city for more than 300 years, and its lifeblood is water.

The Water Utility Authority is focused on providing a reliable, safe, affordable and sustainable water supply to the community. By combining conservation efforts since the 1990s and a drinking water project, the Water Utility Authority has transformed Albuquerque’s water story into one of sustainability and adaptation and achieved outstanding results.

For decades, Albuquerque has drawn from its regional groundwater aquifer to provide the community with drinking water. Most people assumed the aquifer was being replenished via a direct connection to the Rio Grande; however, data told a different story. In reality, the water supply in the aquifer was being depleted and had been drawn down by as much as 120 feet. The city was facing a water crisis and could no longer rely on the aquifer as a sustainable source of water for the community.

To address this issue, the Water Utility Authority took a four-pronged approach to water resource management and has achieved amazing results—reducing expected use or saving approximately a million acre feet of water in the aquifer. This is equivalent to saving a 10 year of supply of water in 20 years. They did this through:

  • Conservation—in spite of population growth, the Water Utility Authority implemented a conservation program to incentivize and educate the community on water use, decreasing the daily per capita to 127 gallons from 250.
  • Reuse/Non-potable—two separate systems were built—one uses industrial and raw surface water and the other recycles effluent from the wastewater treatment plant to provide approximately 10 percent of consumptive use.
  • Aquifer Storage and Recovery—taking non-potable surface water out of the Rio Grande and releasing into an arroyo for infiltration to the aquifer, rather than storing in an above ground reservoir. One of the biggest benefits of underground storage is that it’s not subject to evaporation.
  • The San Juan-Chama Drinking Water Project—the project diverts Colorado River Water as a direct source for consumption. Operational in 2008, the Water Utility Authority began seeing changes in the aquifer right away, with as much as 15-20 feet increases in places, which is an amazing accomplishment, to increase aquifer storage while growing, considering the region has been in drought for many years.

The Water Utility Authority’s water resource management strategy is unique because while many utilities around the country are implementing similar programs to save water and replenish diminishing water supplies, the Water Utility Authority was one of the first to put all of these things together. Taking a proactive stance since the mid-1990s, Albuquerque has made significant and measurable progress towards increasing the water supply in the face of a 6-year drought.

Watch this video on New Mexico’s amazing comeback story on how they’ve changed their water supply.

Greg Gates is CH2M’s Client Service Manager for the Water Utility Authority and Principal Technologist in Integrated Water Resource Management. Over the past 20 years, Greg has been involved in a number of major water projects in the west including the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Project, the Albuquerque Water Resources Management Strategy development and implementation, and the USACE lower Rio Grande Salinity Study. Greg co-lead the assessment of demand for Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin Study.

John Stomp, III was born and raised in Albuquerque and graduated with bachelors and master’s degrees in civil engineering from the University of New Mexico, and is a Registered Professional Engineer in New Mexico. He currently serves as the Chief Operating Officer of the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority. The Water Authority provides water and wastewater services to more than 500,000 residents in the metropolitan area. John oversaw the San Juan-Chama Drinking Water Project and has been engaged in leading the Water Authority in its water resource planning, vision and success.