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Local Hero: Water Conservation – To The Extreme

by Doug Pushard

How low can you go? In a third world country it is not uncommon for a person to live on about 5 gallons a day. In the United States the average is closer to 80 gallons a day. In Western Europe, the average is about 60 gallons a day. But Troy Cucchiara and his Northern New Mexico family have taken water conservation to a whole new level. Not 100 gallons per person, not 65 gallons (the average in Santa Fe, New Mexico), but 27 gallons a day per person!

“I started thinking about water conservation when I was around 12 years old,” Troy says. “I remember waiting for my parents in the car at the store or gas station and drawing up sketches of how it could be possible to recycle sewer water

He has since made saving water a vocation. He worked for years as a water specialist with the Good Water Company, a water filtration company, and then with Homewise, a New Mexico nonprofit serving first-time home buyers. Now, he heads a new water conservation program for the Los Amigos, a nonprofit home weatherization program; which helps low-income and disabled people make their homes more energy and heat efficient. Los Amigos works with residents of Northern New Mexico and eleven pueblos to provide weatherization for low income and disabled people. For qualified residents Los Amigos provides compact fluorescent light bulbs, energy efficient refrigerators, windows and doors, and, most importantly, sealing up home air leaks.

Additionally, Troy started Custom Water Analysis which provides detailed water conservation plans and water quality tests for households, along with providing energy and water efficient appliances at a discount.

As part of the Los Amigos program Troy educating others on the value of water conservation. He likes to get the crowd involved, instead of lecturing to them. “I ask people questions about their attitudes and beliefs about water and energy.” He enjoys seeing their reactions to hearing about those in other countries who use less than five gallons per day. “It is fun engaging people in conversation about waste and what it means to make the best use of one's resources

Troy and his family live in a mobile home park with just a few plants and trees. The vegetation is minimal, native, and requires little water. The Cucchiara’s use a simple five gallon bucket to harvest rainwater to water the outside cactus. The only other outside water is an initial June soaking of a red plumb tree. Their estimated outside water usage is about 100 gallons per year.

Sherry Cucchiara, Troy’s wife and water conservation partner, says she was surprised by how much the family has saved with so few changes. "It's been easy because of all the gadgets (e.g. low-flow shower heads) that he brings home," she said. "It can be a huge misconception that people have to make drastic changes to save a lot of water. This simply is not true."

Besides water conservation, Troy and his family strive to tread lightly on the planet by using CFL bulbs (lead free of course), and by using energy and water efficient applicances (i.e. refrigerator, dishwasher, washer and dryer). They also practice plain old common sense by turning off lights when not in use and not leaving the refrigerator door open. Their next purchase will be a hot water recirculating pump which will further reduce their water usage.

For those just starting out with water conservation, Troy offers this advice:

  • Start by taking inventory of your usage. Measure everything and find where the highest usage is occurring.
  • Reduce water usage in that area first.
  • Next, determine where you can save the most at the lowest cost
  • Work down the list, in order of the biggest savings at the lowest cost first.
  • No matter how deeply you cut your water usage, there will always be one more thing that can be done to save

There is always an opportunity to use less, or to give what you have to someone in need. Think of saving water every time you wash your hands. That is a very powerful exercise if you make it a life long habit. Water conservation saves money, not just water. It's just a good habit to develop,"

Water conservation and usage may not be your typical dinner conversation, as it is at the Cucchiara residence. But with the current droughts and water shortages - who knows - it soon may be.

Troy and his family set a very high standard to follow, but prove that substantial reductions in water use are possible without major life changes.

Thank you, Troy and family, for a being Water Conservation Pioneers and a Local Hero.

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