By Cassie McClure and Suzanne Michaels
Published in the Las Cruces Bulletin 9/27/19
“It was a busy two days and nights for Las Cruces Utilities (LCU) Water line of business supervisors and their crews,” explained Water Deputy Director, Adrienne L. Widmer, P.E., to the LCU Board of Commissioners on September 12th.
After midnight on Thursday, September 5th, the first call rang in to the 24-hour Emergency Dispatch number (575) 526-0500, reporting water gushing out onto University Avenue. Then Widmer was called.
Within an hour, LCU crews were on the job making repairs, but within a span of 48 hours, the first break turned into three separate breaks in the same area, snarling traffic where New Mexico State University (NMSU) sees plenty of students trying to get to class on time at the parking lot by Skeen Hall, and confounding those who needed to turn on Espina Street into the NMSU campus.
Widmer explained to the LCU Board about the emergency - which needed emergency funding. A contractor working on another City of Las Cruces project was able to help spring into action to replace the failed ductile iron waterline, and fortunately local suppliers had the right-size PVC pipe available to work with.
But it is a confounding problem - the high-quality ductile iron pipe in the ground was supposed to easily last 50 years and had only been in place a little more than 30 years. Why had it failed?
It was such a startling failure, that Widmer had a 3-foot section of the failed pipe brought into the LCU Board meeting to show Commissioners. “Perhaps there was water settling in the area from nearby NMSU fields being watered,” speculated Dr. Jorge A. Garcia, P.E., LCU director, at the Board meeting. “But, to confirm, we’re going to do extensive forensic investigation of the pipe failure.”
During the crisis, ensuring water service to homes, apartments, and businesses was all important. LCU staff continued to work through the night of September 6th, installed a 2-inch temporary water line that lay on top of the ground providing temporary water service to two apartment complexes, a bank, and Burger King until a new replacement pipe could be completed. The entire ductile iron waterline from Knox Drive west to a few hundred feet west of El Paseo Road is being replaced with C-900 PVC piping. Next, the City’s Public Works Department will be on the job, making sure the street is as good as new.
“Even though it’s an older line, it shouldn’t have failed that drastically,” said Widmer. “LCU will be doing more investigation on what happened to make sure that water main lines in that area continue to provide the service as expected.”
You can reach Las Cruces Utilities at 528-3500 from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Las Cruces Utilities provides GAS – WATER – WASTEWATER – SOLID WASTE services to approximately 100,000 Las Cruces residents and businesses.
PHOTO 1: A piece of the failed steel water pipe was brought in for the LCU Board of Commissioners to examine. Three major breaks happened within 48 hours in high quality piping material that should have lasted another 2o years.