What if water use is restricted?

By Claire Bushey

In the Sandia Mountains community of Madrid near Albuquerque, lack of water translates to lack of toilets.
The New Mexico town with its population of 149 attracts a number of tourists due to its shops and galleries. But because of extreme water conservation measures, it only has four businesses with toilets available to tourists. Everyone else passing through is confined to waterless outhouses.
Madrid’s experience shows water restrictions have real consequences for ordinary people. So how would life be different in Clovis if water were restricted?
Undoubtedly, residents’ quality of life would take a fundamental turn for the worst. Health care, sanitation and nutrition would all be affected.
Kidney dialysis machines won’t work without water, said Kevin Tilden, director of communications for New Mexico American Water Co. Dishes and people could go dirty.
“You can’t sustain an economy or a healthy community without (water),” he said.
Clovis Fire Department does not pay for any water it uses to fight fires or during training, said Chief Ron Edwards. The department uses about 10,000 gallons a month for training exercises. Although firefighting probably would still be a high priority for water use, Edwards speculated it might no longer be free for training.
“Hopefully, it doesn’t get to that,” he said.
Representatives of two of the area’s biggest employers, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway and Cannon Air Force Base, said they would not be unduly affected by water restrictions imposed on Clovis.
“This is not the era of the steam engine anymore,” said Lena Kent, a railway spokeswoman. I don’t even know that they wash (the trains) that often.”
Cannon uses about 450 million gallons of water a year, but has a water supply separate from the Clovis municipal supply, said Staff Sgt. Daniel Short of the base’s public affairs office. The base has operated under self-imposed water restrictions for a “number of years” to conserve water, he said.
“This is nothing new for the folks at Cannon Air Force Base,” Short said.
Clovis Mayor David Lansford said city officials have started researching conservation options through the recently formed Water Policy Advisory Committee.
City Commissioner Catherine Haynes, who serves on the committee, said the city does not own the water in Clovis wells and New Mexico-American Water would have the final say in any restrictive measures. Haynes said if water were scarce, an increase in prices would probably come before city ordinances would be enacted to control water usage.
However, Haynes said the committee does plan to look into gray water systems (previously used) and cisterns as future methods of conserving and recycling water in Clovis, and more drastic measures could be taken in the event of a shortage.
“I could see where we would have, say, where one section of town waters on one day and one doesn’t, or you could only water once a week,” she said. “People could use bathtub water to water plants. Some places, if you’re staying in a hotel and you’re staying more than a day, you have a choice of not laundering your sheets and towels to conserve water.”
But debating about what would happen if Clovis’ water were restricted is a moot point, said Lansford. If people and businesses believe the region’s water resources will dwindle, they will stop investing in the city’s future.
“Long before we have no water, people will be long gone,” Lansford said. “People won’t wait until one day you turn on the tap and there’s no water.”