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Will Albuquerque drink its own treated sewage?

Few would mind such recycling products so long as the H2O is sufficiently purified.  And few would mind if it was based on an actual scarcity.  Finally few would mind if it were affordable.  But now, a New Mexico television station KOB4 reports that because of climate change (i.e. global heating), citizens of Albuquerque will be drinking their own treated sewage sooner rather than later.  And we will pay much more for this privilege.

I’m opposed to this future for many reasons.  First and foremost, there is no anticipated water scarcity in Albuquerque, no matter how far into the future one dares to peer.  That link shows among other things that perhaps thousands of years of water supply are available right under our feet.  No, our aquifer is not the size of any Great Lake, but it may have the equivalent amount of potable water as two or three Lake Tahoes.

Second, Albuquerque’s water utility operations costs to ratepayers are already somewhat high.  Perhaps there are great reasons but we can always strive to do better.  For example, take a look at the three featured pie charts comparing Albuquerque’s water utility statistics to those of Phoenix, our much larger (and much hotter) Southwestern neighbor.  As this table and related information roughly indicates, Phoenix has about 8 times the population, and 3 times the area of Albuquerque, yet the water operations budgets are about the same.

City Number of Customers Area (square miles) Water Utility Operating Budget ($/yr)
Phoenix                          1,500,000                              540 $280,000,000
Albuquerque                            200,000                              190 $230,000,000

I mentioned that Phoenix was much hotter.  So among other things, I don’t understand why their water remains more affordable.  If Climate Change is making Albuquerque hotter, and if the heat is making our water more scarce and expensive, then why isn’t that the case in Phoenix?  I’ve explored some of this odd mix with various experts as well.  I think Bruce Thompson’s uncorroborated notions that our aquifer (now also complemented by about 16 billion gallons per year of imported water from the San Juan Chama diversion) only has 60 years left prior to its depletion has been influential in the current direction.

This is only a blog, and honestly I somewhat see other things Bruce’s way.  It seems good to make the most of a resource, so long as it doesn’t end up like plastics recycling today.  Perhaps some value would result because there would be more jobs in planning, construction and operations, not unlike our potentially great ART bus transportation project.  That’s somewhat interesting to me as well because while the water utility in Phoenix has 8 times the customer population, and three times the land area to service (as well as 7,000 miles of water lines and 90,000 manholes) they only have about twice the staff of our Albuquerque water utility.

adapted from Museum für Naturkunde Karlsruhe, Germany

Soon then we will match Phoenix in water supply staff even while we remain consumers of only 1/8 of the water, and we will be drinking our own recycled sewage.  Perhaps we could grow into a more Phoenix like capacity and efficiency over time, along with a growing population.  Perhaps we could also achieve an even more verdant city, with less water through such an approach.  I don’t know, but it seems that drinking our recycled sewage might eventually be justified without appealing to a belief in Climate Change or in a scarcity of water here.

References

[1] Wallace, M.G., 2019, Application of lagged correlations between solar cycles and hydrosphere components towards sub-decadal forecasts of streamflows in the Western US.   Hydrological Sciences Journal, Oxford UK  Volume 64 Issue 2.   doi: 10.1080/02626667.2019.

Others sources include:

sustainability.asu.edu/person/kathryn-sorensen/

Albuquerque Journal Editorial “Strong conservation, new projects paint a bright water future” 22 Feb 2020

and some general internet information

 

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2 Comments

  1. Michael Wallace

    February 23, 2020 at 4:23 pm

    Thanks for commenting Bernie. Much is up in the air about some aspects of agricultural water here I think. For example, SE New Mexico agricultural water is high demand for non-agricultural uses, particularly for the oil and gas extraction industry, associated with horizontal drilling and fracking. At least those transactions aren’t based on any misrepresentations by regulators about climate change, yet.

  2. Bernie McCune

    February 23, 2020 at 4:03 pm

    It seems clear to me that a warming climate is a wetter world for us. What I am more worried about is that the next climate cycle will bring a cooler climate and a dryer world. But even here it looks like existing water resources in the state will at least keep the population as it levels and perhaps begins to drop in the next decades in lots of water. Well except maybe for our continuing agricultural requirements?

    Bernie

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