Water Equity Clearinghouse

Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority

Albuquerque, NM

The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority is a dedicated provider of drinking water and wastewater services to more than 606,700 water users in the greater Albuquerque metropolitan area. The organization’s stated missions are to provide affordable, reliable, and quality drinking water while supporting environmentally and economically sustainable solutions that are healthy for the ecosystem and community.

As the largest water utility in New Mexico, the Water Authority has great potential to effect large-scale change through mindful practices. In order to do so, the Water Authority identifies 5-Year Goals to address priority issues. Currently, the utility is working to ensure water supply resiliency through use of renewable water sources; engaging in safe wastewater collection practices to protect the Rio Grande watershed and downstream users; delivering water and wastewater services that consider the unique needs and perceptions of each customer; maintaining a financially stable water utility; and sustaining a well-trained, informed, and competitive work force to meet the needs of customers and the Water Authority.

Efforts to Advance Water Equity

The Water Authority recognizes that not all customers have equal ability to pay for household conservation measures such as installation of high-efficiency appliances. Thus, the utility has created programs that have returned more than $1 million to customers each year in the form of rebates. Rebate programs target varying aspects of domestic water use, such as plumbing, washing machines, hot water recirculation systems, evaporative cooling thermostats, and landscaping.

The Water Authority also offers free workshops and educational programs that help consumers, regardless of income, to conserve water and save money. Free audits, and even free installation of water saving devices, are offered to help users maximize water savings.

The utility is also actively engaged in developing a workforce that is inclusive and supported by health benefits, a wellness program, and retirement plans. The Water Authority recognizes that a strong, competent workforce recruited from the local community is key to continuing to provide high quality water services.

The Water Authority is committed to returning safely treated wastewater to the Rio Grande watershed in consideration of other users downstream. Pursuant to this, the utility has undertaken a $250 million overhaul of its wastewater treatment plant to protect the health of the local riparian ecosystem—and ensure that the plant’s neighbors are free from the burdens of noise and odors.

Intergenerational equity is enhanced by management practices that promote a resilient water supply that can be counted on in perpetuity. In 2008, the Water Authority completed the San Juan-Chama drinking water project, which protects an overtaxed aquifer by utilizing renewable surface water from the Colorado River. The project, costing more than $400 million, was funded by a series of planned rate increases implemented over several years to protect customers from “rate shock.” Use of the resulting surface-water system has led to rising groundwater levels throughout the Water Authority’s service area following decades of depletion. The savings in groundwater represents a future emergency supply from which the community can draw in times of drought.

The Water Authority does not neglect the fact that climate change will impact water and wastewater utilities in many, often unforseen, ways. To address this, the utility has adopted a 100-year water management plan called Water 2120. This plan builds on past conservation successes in replenishing the groundwater aquifer beneath Albuquerque by investing in conservation, aquifer storage and recovery (ASR), storm-water capture, wastewater reuse, and other alternatives.

The plan was developed from the beginning with input from across the community. Among the outreach efforts were a series of “Customer Conversations,” held in each quadrant of the utility’s service area, which were intended to gather feedback from customers about what kinds of water supply altenatives they would like to see implemented under different circumstances of population growth and climate change.