Reaching Out To Teach About Las Cruces Utilities

By Suzanne Michaels Photo Courtesy of Las Cruces Utilities

“We have groups calling up all the time for tours of the Las Cruces Utilities (LCU) Jacob A. Hands Wastewater Treatment Facility,” says Klaus Kemmer, Wastewater Administrator. “Our operators tour mostly school groups through the entire plant, explaining the facility and the processes we use to clean the city’s wastewater. It’s important that residents of all ages know what happens to the water they run down the drain or flush down the toilet.”

LCU operates three wastewater treatment facilities: Jacob A. Hands on W. Amador Avenue, which treats and disinfects 3.3 billion gallons of sewage per year, and the East Mesa Reclamation Plant, which treats 700,000 gallons of wastewater every day, for irrigation of public green space on the city’s East Side, and the West Mesa Treatment Plant, which treats 150,000 gallons every day. Kemmer says that for every 10 people who go on tours, he assigns one operator to explain what they are seeing, and to be sure everyone in the group can hear the explanation.

But students don’t have to travel anywhere to learn about LCU – this City Department reaches out into local classrooms to teach kids about possible careers in each Section of the Utility – gas, water, wastewater, and solid waste.

In May, a group of third graders at Desert Trails Elementary School in Chaparral covered their noses and laughed as they learned about a career possibility they had never heard of before – necessary for our communities to function – it’s cleaning that water we all use every day for showers, washing clothes, cleaning dishes, and flushing toilets.

“We try and make it engaging and fun,” says Lonnie Orona, LCU wastewater collections maintenance technician.

Orona showed pictures of different types of equipment used for cleaning out underground sewer pipes, literally giving students an inside view of the city’s sewer system, thanks to video shot by a tiny TV-quality camera mounted on wheels, that runs up and down the sewer mains and is used to “see” problems or issues inside the main lines. One video had the whole room jumping as a rat scampered by.

“This type of presentation gets them talking and thinking about jobs that they would never be exposed to normally,” said second grade Teacher, Rebecca Olsen.

Meanwhile, over at Lynn Middle School, LCU encouraged sixth and seventh graders to consider a career in gas engineering. By the end of the day 225 students had passed through the outdoor classroom to hear about real-life issues distributing natural gas to more than 40,000 home and business connections in and around Las Cruces.

The pipes are critical to delivering natural gas to customers: Stephan Klingelmeier, LCU gas cathodic protection technician, explained to the students how LCU protects the all-important underground steel pipes that carry gas.

Then, over at Alameda Elementary students oohed and aahed as the powerful mechanical arm from the giant trash truck reached out and grabbed the brown bin pulling it high in the sky and neatly dumping it in the body of the truck. The process takes 3.3 seconds, and each truck performs the operation 800-900 times per day on its rounds of residential trash pickup.

The third, fourth, and fifth graders liked it so much, they asked for the demonstration over and over again.

It was all part of Career Day at the school, exposing students to career possibilities in the LCU Solid Waste Section. Students learned why the trash is emptied at the school starting at 6 a.m.

Javier Ortega, LCU residential supervisor, explained, “We have to get started early while the streets are fairly empty, to get in and out of the schools before the buses and parents start arriving to drop off you kids. It would be a terrible mess for all of us to be there at the same time, trying to do our jobs.”

Back at Las Cruces Utilities Administrative Offices, Professor Zohrab Samani, Ph.D., P.E., at New Mexico State University (NMSU) brings his senior water resource engineering students to an off-campus class at LCU, which includes a tour of a nearby City water well. 

The water well they toured on this day is “Well 59B.” It’s one of 27 City wells providing drinking water to more than 100,000 residents and business customers across the city.

By the end of the class, the future engineers had their eyes opened about providing safe drinking water for this community. LCU pumps water from two deep aquifers (the Mesilla Bolson and the Jornada Bolson) to provide water to more than 35,000 home and business connections, while maintaining more than 600 miles of underground water lines and 4,000 fire hydrants.

It’s important for Las Cruces residents of all ages to know that LCU is committed to providing utility services we can all count on – every time you open the tap for water, wash a load of clothes, take out the trash, or heat your home with gas. This City Department goes to great lengths to reach out to teach about the services provided to each one of us. 

Summer 2017


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