LOCAL NEWS

New Commissioners Hear Department Heads: Water & Wastewater Departments

PART 2 IN A SERIES

By Kathleen Sloan

HERALD Reporter

The Truth or Consequences City Commission heard from each department head, as part of their orientation, at a special meeting held Thursday, March 22.

New commissioners are Mayor John Mulcahy, Sandra Whitehead and Jeff Richter. Returning commissioners are Freddie Torres and Steve Green. They all attended the meeting, which was good preparation for the upcoming budget talks. Budgets are due to the Department of Finance & Administration by May 1.

This is the second article on the department presentations. Last week, the fire department was featured. This week the Water Department, headed by Julian Garcia, and the Wastewater Department, headed by Jesus Salayandia, are featured.

Garcia said water lines date from the 1940s and 1950s. “There are 4,000 water connections and 4,000 sewer connections. There are 36 miles of water lines,” he said.

“It took three or four years, but we are fully staffed. We are on-call 24/7,” said Garcia. Three of the nine staff members are on call.

Commissioner Green asked if it were true that 20 percent of the water leaks.

Garcia said it was. He said, “16 percent loss is typical for a city.” He attributed that percentage to water given to fires, street sweeping and the parks, which watering is not metered.

Garcia said the department used to hire outside companies to do leak detection work, but “we were losing money and sometimes they couldn’t find the leak. Therefore we wait for the leak to show itself.”

Garcia was asked if asbestos is leaking into the pipes. No, he said, stating that asbestos insulated pipes prevent erosion, and therefore cut down on barnacles growing in the cast iron pipes that exist.

Garcia was asked if lead is a problem. No, he said. Lead is used on the joints, “as soldering on copper.”

Garcia said he has “cross-trained” his staff and they are even capable of rebuilding big meters. Broken meters are a big problem because “60 to 20 percent loss can occur because they don’t read right.”

Mayor John Mulcahy asked Garcia to name his number-one issue. Garcia said, “fixing leaks. We lost 100 meters in two weeks last year,” estimating the cost at $5,000.

Salayandia said the wastewater system dates back to 1977. That year, the system’s estimated worth was $2 million and now it’s worth $10 million, he said.

He has eight employees, but keeping them “is a big problem. They get up to a class three and leave,” stating the city serves as a “training ground” for other cities.

One of his biggest concerns “is the Clancy lift station, which is the biggest. If it ever goes out, we are in big doodoo.”

He recommended a backup lift be designed and installed. “I’m looking into it,” he said.

Asked what his biggest issue is, Salayandia said, “Grease,” because it is extraordinarily hard on the system. It is very hard to extract and “the bugs coat themselves in it,” making solids much harder to break down.

Salayandia compared the system to a body, which needs food, air and light to keep processing.

Commissioner Richter said his constituents have complained about the smell, and asked if anything can be done about it. Salayandia said the smell only occurs when they spread out the waste to expose it to sunlight and then “turn the piles.”

The new system design will be more efficient and will do away with the use of chlorine, which “is a very powerful poison,” he said, used on the effluent before returning it to the Rio Grande. The new system will use irradiation instead, he said.

Richter encouraged Salayandia to seek markets for the treated waste as compost – money which can help the department’s bottom line.

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