Las Cruces Utilities celebrates two big anniversaries in 2017

By Suzanne Michaels Photo courtesy of LC Utilities

This October is the 10-year anniversary of Las Cruces Utilities (LCU) first seating a full Board of Commissioners (Board) in charge of overseeing utility operations for the City of Las Cruces. LCU is the City department in charge of providing four utilities to residents and businesses of Las Cruces; today that’s more than 40,000 customers who rely on LCU every day for gas, water, wastewater, and solid waste services.

Unlike other City departments, LCU operates with guidance from the Board, which consists of seven (7) Commissioners, two (2) of whom are seated City Councilors. The Utility Commissioners are: Mr. Ed Archuleta, Mr. Steven Baumgarn, Mr. Jim Carmichael, Dr. Harry Johnson, William Little (Chair), and Councillors Olga Pedroza and Gill Sorg (Vice-Chair). Commissioners serve a four-year term and are not compensated for their service.

Another difference between LCU and other City departments: your tax dollars do not fund LCU. Instead it is funded by rates and charges for utility services. “LCU operates as an enterprise fund,” explains Jose F. Provencio, business services administrator. “Very much like a private business, LCU takes in payments from customers and then pays the costs of operations, employees, and all service-related expenses with annual revenues of more than $62 million annually.”

“To be clear, there are no subsidies that come to LCU from the City’s general fund,” adds Provencio.

Public meetings for the Utilities Board are scheduled at 3:00 p.m. the second Thursday of every month in the Las Cruces Utilities Board Room (Room 225), 680 N. Motel Boulevard.

In September 2017, LCU celebrated the 5th Anniversary of the operation of the Griggs and Walnut Groundwater Plume Superfund Site. LCU hosts an annual Open House to provide information, refreshments, and tours of the facility to explain how the air-stripping technology removes the contaminant perchloroethylene (PCE) from our water.

“The site is considered a major success in cleaning up a contaminant spill,” explains Water Administrator, Adrienne L. Widmer, P.E.  “To date more than 528 million gallons of groundwater have been extracted from the PCE plume and more than 46 pounds of PCE have been removed from the extracted groundwater.”

In 1993, trace amounts of the chemical PCE were first detected in two City water wells near the intersection of Griggs and Walnut Streets. The wells were taken offline and out of the water distribution system. By 2001, the Griggs and Walnut Superfund site was listed with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which coordinated with the City and County in modeling the PCE plume and assessing how to best treat the water to bring the affected portion of the aquifer back into a clean state.

In August 2012 - thanks to the joint efforts of the EPA, the City of Las Cruces, Doña Ana County, and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) - the Griggs and Walnut Joint Superfund water treatment plant went into full production using “air-stripper” technology.

Once a year, the plant is opened to the public to explain exactly how it works and answer any questions or concerns from residents.

“This project is functioning as designed, removing PCE, and putting the groundwater to beneficial use,” explains Widmer. “We encourage the public to come and tour the treatment facility during our annual open house to see how it works and ask questions.”

Total cleanup efforts are estimated to take 15 to 20 years and cost an estimated $330,000 per year to operate and maintain the treatment system.

Fall 2017

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