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Santa Fe Cuts Water Consumption By Imposing Tiered Pricing Model


Now, to another city that's grown in population, but at the same time, has managed to cut its total water consumption, Santa Fe, N.M. We're going to find out how they've done that from Santa Fe's mayor, Javier Gonzalez. Welcome to the program.

MAYOR JAVIER GONZALES: Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: And one of the things you've done there in Santa Fe is tiered water pricing - higher rates for water gluttons. You use more, you pay more. How does it work exactly?

GONZALES: Well, it's pretty simple. We have two tiers. The first tier is $6.06 for the first 1,000 to 7,000 gallons. Thereafter, it jumps up to $21.72 for every thousand gallons after that 7,000 gallon initial use.

BLOCK: Wow, that's a big jump. How much has consumption dropped since you started tiered pricing there in Santa Fe?

GONZALES: Well, back in 1997 when we started, the average use per household was about 162 gallons per person. Today, it's about 96 gallons per person, per day. And that takes into account our population. We've grown by more than 10 percent since we started the tier pricing. And we've reduced water consumption by more than 20 percent on the per-person gallon.

BLOCK: I was looking at a website for the nonprofit group Circle of Blue, and they've calculated that your city, Santa Fe, has the most expensive water rates in the country. They say that a family of 4 using 100 gallons of water per person, per day in Santa Fe would pay $154. That's about twice as much they'd pay in Los Angeles, about three times as much as they'd pay in Tucson. Is that a place on the chart that you'd be proud to fill, that you think water should be expensive and why not have it be Santa Fe that's most expensive?

GONZALES: Well, first, we've got to recognize that in Santa Fe, people know that there isn't an unlimited supply of water. We live in a high-desert community. We know that climate change is real. Year over year, our temperatures are rising, our forests are getting dryer. And we have to implement strong measures to mitigate the threats of climate change. Waters conservation is key to that. And having the tiered pricing model that promotes conservation is important. When you factor in, you know, the low-flush toilets in the homes or taking advantage of the rebates of putting in washers that don't use that much water and certainly their behavior - and what's really happening here in Santa Fe, many of our low- to moderate-income families are some of the best conservators of water. And their cost, on a monthly basis, is relatively low compared to what the cost would be otherwise if we weren't able to have these conservation measures in place.

BLOCK: Do you remember, as a kid growing up there, being especially mindful about water as a resource?

GONZALES: I do. You know, I - my grandfather, at the time that he was growing up, his house was adjoined by agricultural fields. They had acequia systems, which are ditches that irrigated the fields. And I remember as a kid playing in those acequia systems and listening to my grandfather say, you know, enjoy the water, but, you know, it's important that you don't waste it, that you'd not misuse it. Those are things I didn't quite understand as a kid. I just kind of thought he didn't want me to get too messy by playing in the ditch. But they've known for a long time, and we've known here for more than several generations, that water is a scarcity.

BLOCK: Do you hear from mayors of other cities that may be not as proactive about water conservation as Santa Fe is looking for ideas of what they can do?

GONZALES: The truth is, adopting tiered pricing and ways that modify behavior drastically, it comes at great political risk. And they have to decide ultimately if they're ready to advance water policy that's truly conserves water for long-term generations, or if they're going to kick the bucket down the road. And that's certainly not why people should be in elected office today.

BLOCK: Well, Mayor Gonzales, thanks so much for talking to us today.

GONZALES: Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: Javier Gonzalez is the mayor of Santa Fe, N.M. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.