By G.H. Scott
Published in the Las Cruces Sun-News 6/27/21
Just below your feet are miles and miles of gas, water, and sewer lines servicing Las Cruces Utilities (LCU) customers day and night. You may never give them a second thought until a disruption causes an inconvenience. But tracking and mapping every inch of the underground lines is a full-time job for members of LCU’s locating teams. “Our staff work a 40-hour week; it’s all they do every day. They use GPS (global positioning system) and electronic frequencies to make our mapping systems more accurate,” said Joe Atencio, LCU Gas locating & mapping supervisor.
Recently, LCU’s locating crews in the gas and water lines of business underwent certification training from Staking University. The seminar is designed to aid locators in developing troubleshooting techniques and skills to consistently provide accurate and complete utility location information. LCU employees attended the two-day seminar, which included classroom and field lessons. At the end of the second day, they took a comprehensive locating exam to be certified. “The intent of this training was for our Locators to further enhance their skills and abilities and continue to improve their performance in the field,” said Atencio. The certification is valid for two years. This year, as in 2019, the trainers came to the LCU campus, which allowed for 16 employees to participate in the training.
As the name implies, LCU Locators’ responsibilities include locating, identifying, and marking underground utility lines. On new utility lines, LCU knows exactly where the lines are located as most of the lines put into the ground have a tracing wire on the top of the pipe. However, older lines don’t have tracing wires, which means “Pothole Crews” must go out into the field and dig test holes to expose the underground utility lines and determine their location. “Between digging and modern equipment, we get the most up-to-date information possible on the locations of all utility lines in Las Cruces,” said Atencio.
There are two forms of locating utility lines: conductive and inductive. Conductive involves connecting the equipment directly to the pipe or tracer wire. An electromagnetic frequency is transmitted along the wire through the length of the pipe to a receiver that tells the Locator exactly where that piece of pipe is in the ground. Inductive locating sends a broadcast signal into the ground to look for pipes without tracing wires. The Locator places the transmitter above a pre-determined location such as a gas riser or water meter. The signal is sent into the ground in search of anything metallic such as steel gas lines. A receiver picks up the frequency and pinpoints the pipeline location.
“It’s like a radio station if you will. The transmitter puts a signal onto a gas riser much like a radio station, on the other end is the Locator who has the receiver picking up the signal’s frequency,” said Atencio.
LCU Customer Central can be reached at 575-541-2111 from 8 a.m. - 6p.m. Monday through Friday. LCU provides services to approximately 100,000 Las Cruces residents and businesses.
PHOTO 1: LCU employees receiving training from Staking University Instructor to certify as underground utility Locators. -Courtesy of LCU.