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Webber’s water usage at home subsides

May 6, 2019

Mayor Alan Webber may not be able to plug all the leaks at City Hall.

But he’s doing a pretty good job at his own house.

Santa Fe’s first full-time mayor has had a dramatic decrease in water usage at his million-dollar home on Upper Canyon Road since he pledged last year to “do better” when it came to conserving one of the city’s most precious natural resources.

Webber’s conservation promise came after he challenged Santa Fe residents to reduce water consumption even though water meter readings revealed his own usage was significantly higher than the average single-family residential customer in the city. During certain months, documents showed, the water usage at Webber’s home was more than eight times higher.

The mayor, of course, is no average customer. Webber and his wife, Frances Diemoz, reside in a nearly 5,000-square-foot gated home on 4.5 acres of prime real estate on Santa Fe’s east side, including an irrigated acre with at least 119 fruit, deciduous, evergreen and piñon trees.

Still, Webber sucked up the criticism about his high water use last year.

“I encouraged people to conserve water,” Webber wrote in an email at the time. “I need to do better, too.”

Since then, Webber has cut water usage at his home, posting a year-over-year decrease of 37 percent, due in large part to a combination of indoor and outdoor changes, from repairing leaks on a decades-old irrigation system to replacing turf with native buffalo grass.

“The first thing we did was to call the city,” Webber said in an interview Friday. “It turns out — I’m not sure if everybody in Santa Fe knows this — but the city has a really fantastic free audit where they come to your house and they walk through all your water use. They assess your opportunities to improve water use.”

Webber called the city’s free water audit “thorough and pleasant and helpful.”

“They do something as simple as give you a little device you put in your shower that’s an hourglass, and it tells you how long you’ve been standing in the shower,” he said. “Turns out the more knowledge and information you have, it changes your behavior.”

Webber said he and his wife also downloaded the city’s water usage app, called Eye on Water, which allows utility customers to monitor water use at home. Webber called it a “phenomenal” tool.

“There used to be a great TV ad where the guy says, ‘I’m not only president of Hair Club [for Men], but I’m also a client,’ ” Webber said. “I feel in this case, I’m not only mayor of Santa Fe, I’m also a client, and the city services were exceptional and the value they provided were terrific. The people were friendly and helpful, and we continue to work with some of them to continue to make improvements.”

Christine Chavez, the city’s water conservation manager, called the mayor’s decrease in water usage “pretty impressive.”

“I know he did quite a bit to his property to offset irrigation from potable water,” she said.

Webber could have something to gush about in the future. The decrease from 2017-18 is on pace to flow downward even more this year.

“It’s a very comprehensive list that the city provides, and we did as many things as we could,” Webber said. “And we’re not done. This summer we’ll be monitoring it as well.”

According to documents provided by the city’s Utility Billing Division, the water usage at Webber’s property totaled 357,400 gallons in 2017. Last year — after Webber’s high water usage became a front-page headline in The New Mexican — the number dropped to 224,000 gallons. City documents show that 13,700 gallons of water were consumed at Webber’s house in the first four months of 2019 — significantly less than the first quarter of each of the previous two years.

A year ago, the mayor challenged residents to cut back on water use as a part of a campaign to help the city claim the title of the most water-wise municipality in the nation.

“We love our way of life in Santa Fe, and we want to pass it down to successive generations,” Webber said in a statement promoting the campaign. “That means making sustainability a part of everything we do, especially where water is involved.”

After being questioned about his own water use, which was considerably higher than that of some of his neighbors who own similarly sized properties, Webber said people expect their mayor to set a good example.

Residential water usage in Santa Fe has remained relatively stable in recent years, though there was an uptick during last year’s hot and dry summer months.

Webber, a successful entrepreneur who moved to Santa Fe from the East Coast more than 15 years ago, said his water bill, with one exception, hadn’t really raised any red flags.

The water usage at Webber’s home increased from 279,300 gallons total in 2016 to 357,400 gallons in 2017 — a nearly 28 percent jump.

“What we were doing was what most people do in daily life, which is you get a bill and you pay it,” he said. “We really weren’t paying attention.”

But last year’s story forced Webber to pay attention.

“What the [New Mexican] article a year ago pointed out was that we can all do better, starting with Frances and me, and we’re doing better and we’ll continue to look for ways to do better,” the mayor said. “It’s an ongoing effort to find ways to conserve and use water more frugally.”

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.