WaterWise Brings Thriving Wildlife & Color To Albuquerque Landscapes
Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico | Build Time 2–3 weeks for landscape, irrigation & cistern | Size: About 1,000 sq. ft.
Hunter Ten Broeck is leading the way in smart water solutions and natural landscapes in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Aptly named, his firm WaterWise handles design, build and maintenance with a specialty in irrigation and drought-tolerant plants. He and his wife founded the company in 1993, as the region was just starting to mandate water-use restrictions.
“In the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, the area experienced a record-breaking wet period,” recalls Hunter.
During this time, residents lived as if they had an unlimited water supply, but studies indicated Albuquerque was using its groundwater reserves—fed by the Rio Grande—nearly three times faster than it could be replenished. Per capita daily water consumption was at 250 gallons, while today it’s dropped to around 125 gallons.
“At first, when we talked about water conservation, what I did was a little more of a hard sell,” says Hunter. “Clients were used to their green lawns and high-water plants.”
At an elevation of 5,000 feet above sea level, Albuquerque is located on the northern section of the Chihuahuan Desert. Adding to the dry climate is a “mega-drought,” which Hunter says has been going on for more than two decades.
But just because water is scarce doesn’t mean Hunter’s landscapes are dull and bleak. In fact, they’re quite the opposite. The thriving landscaping at the WaterWise office has become an example to clients and a lead generator for people driving by. Rising above flourishing plants in bright purple, red and yellow is a giant metal cistern which supplies water to the property year-round.
“After renting for a while, we bought our building in 2013. As part of our remodel, we planned the cistern so all the water could come off the roof to one place,” says Hunter.
The cistern can hold 1,800 gallons of water and in nine years, WaterWise has only had to fill it manually three times. One inch of rainwater collected on a 1,000-square-foot property equates to 600 gallons of water. So, an inch of rainfall on the 3,100-square-foot roof at the WaterWise office can supply the entire cistern.
According to Hunter, more than half of Albuquerque’s annual rainfall of 13 inches occurs between July and October, which they can store for the drier months ahead. The cistern runs on an automated drip system and when it overflows, water is diverted through a French drain to secondary plantings that line the parking lot.
“The water in the cistern also moderates the temperature, which is warmer than the air in winter and cooler than the air in summer, allowing us to plant different things than we normally would,” says Hunter. “Albuquerque is in Zone 7b and has extreme temperatures, creating microclimates around the area. In the winter, it can drop below freezing, while in the summer temperatures can reach 100 degrees.”
Hunter likes using his office garden to experiment with different plants he’s not as familiar with.
“We’ve discovered some plants that will flower right through winter, which is unusual, like the Angelita daisy,” he says. “We try to plan so there’s color in every season and it’s not just the same all year.”
Hunter also likes to incorporate plants that attract wildlife, like Vermilion Bluffs Mexican Sage for hummingbirds and Lynn’s Legacy Texas Ranger for bees. “Albuquerque is home to an urban wildlife refuge, and more and more clients are requesting plants that attract pollinators,” he says.
Around the WaterWise office is a fence that’s both beautiful and functional. The base is made from rough-cut cedar and the top is wrought-iron. Gabions along the fence, made from recycled materials, serve as an interesting architectural feature as well as for erosion control.
For the patio, WaterWise installed regionally sourced flagstone. Hunter steers away from gravel patios because of the heat; however, he likes Crusher fines, angular bits of gravel, to create informal walkways and also uses gravel mulch around plants. Hunter also prefers not to use artificial turf. “My own personal preference is to be surrounded by green living things,” he explains.
Over the years, Hunter has been featured in numerous publications and on podcasts to share his expertise. He’s part of the ARID LID (low-impact development) coalition in the middle Rio Grande watershed. He also contributed to the Nature Conservancy’s “Climate-Ready Trees for Albuquerque” project.
“Trees are crucial to regulating temperatures in a heat island, but people need to know what to plant,” he says. “It’s important that we have a diverse tree canopy.”
In the ‘90s, when water was at a surplus, Southwesterners were planting Eastern trees, which not only exacerbated allergies but later died, leaving no canopy at all. Today, the city is offering incentives for residents and businesses to plant more native, drought-tolerant trees.
The city of Albuquerque and companies like WaterWise are a model to others on how to cut water consumption even as the population grows.
“I’ve been fortunate to be around a long time,” Hunter says. “We’re booked out with landscaping projects through the spring, and clients are more concerned with saving water and have seen a lot of good examples.”
As WaterWise projects indicate, with smart water solutions, clients can enjoy colorful palettes with native plants and plenty of back yard wildlife.