Faced with an extensive drought, city officials have imposed stringent regulations regarding new construction in Santa Fe, N.M.

"In order [for someone] to build, they have to zero out their demand on the city's water system," says Joe Abeyta, project manager at the City of Santa Fe Water Budget Administrative Office. Depending on the size of the lot and type of building, contractors seeking building permits must first complete a certain number of toilet retrofits in the area, changing out older models to low-flow ones.

Since the amount of water a toilet uses is constant, it is easy to estimate how much water each retrofit conserves. The water load for a particular type of building is based on a yearlong survey of water usage that was done prior to the passing of the ordinance on August 26, 2002. Abeyta says his office can therefore calculate fairly accurately the amount of water a new building will use and, then, how much water a contractor must save by completing toilet retrofits.

Predictably, area builders aren't thrilled with the policy. "It's certainly not what we'd like to see," says Gary Ehlert, executive officer of the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association. "But it is better than a moratorium." Builders must pay a $40 administrative fee for each retrofit they complete.

How long the ordinance will last is still up in the air and probably hinges in part on the weather. But, logistically, it can't be a permanent measure. "It's a stopgap," says Ehlert, noting that there are only so many toilets in the area that can be retrofitted.