By Cassie McClure
Published in Las Cruces Sun-News 12.18.2021
Las Cruces Utilities (LCU) has many programs that keep residents safe. However, unless there is industry knowledge – having worked at a restaurant or large industrial plant – most people may never know all of what goes on to keep our water safe. For example, LCU’s Pollution Prevention (PP) program has three parts: the backflow prevention program; the Fats, Oils, and Grease (FOG) program; and the Industrial Pretreatment Program (IPP).
“A simple way to explain backflow prevention is once the City delivers your water, we don’t want the water back,” said LCU Industrial Waste Program (IWP) Inspector Jeff Garcia. What Garcia means is that once LCU delivers water to a user, there need to be methods to ensure that water that may have been contaminated does not come back into the clean system.
LCU IWP Inspector Ed Southworth explained situations it could be as dangerous as a hose left in a vat of acid – that if a pipe breaks and the pressure reverses it could allow the hose to siphon the acid back in and contaminate clean water downstream – or as simple as soda machine where the carbonation can return into copper pipes and corrode them. Southworth, with backflow prevention, makes sure that the over 2,000 backflow assemblies at various sites throughout the city are operating correctly and follow City Ordinance 1694.
“We make sure not only to keep people safe, but the infrastructure that people have paid to have in their city – like the water plant,” said LCU IWP Inspector Damon Barnes, who oversees the FOG program to comply the City Ordinance 2489. FOG buildup traps larger items in the wastewater pipes and can become an unwieldy clump that could clog lift stations or wastewater treatment facilities.
Restaurant and car wash owners may be familiar with Barnes, who makes sure that the restaurants clean grease interceptors and that car wash locations trap any sand. But, if a commercial or industrial plant has more than grease or sand, that’s where the Industrial Pretreatment Program comes in.
“For example, in the Industrial Pretreatment Program, a Significant Industrial User (SIU) will typically have some form of pretreatment to remove pollutants and debris to a certain extent,” said Garcia.
He explained that SIU’s are required to conduct self-monitoring sampling per their individual IPP issued permits. This helps to identify certain parameters in the wastewater being discharged into the City’s sewer system. IPP Inspectors are also required to sample SIU’s mandated by the EPA under the wastewater treatment plants National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. Garcia added, “We regulate the SIU’s in accordance with City Ordinance 2488 and EPA regulates what we do.”
A couple of tips from the team, who together have decades of industry experience, including seeing an engrained bowling ball make its way into a sewer and who have lost a pair of glasses down an open manhole, have a few tips for company owners:
- Mind what you put down the drain, from chemicals, solid materials, or even pharmaceuticals. “Many times, out of sight out of mind becomes the norm,” said Garcia.
- Pollution Prevention is key to helping keep sewer lines in your home or business in good condition and helps curtail problems with the City’s sewer system.
- Pay attention to your notices – one may ask for testing on your backflow assembly, and one may be your proof of cleaning your grease.
“Our aim is to keep companies from violating ordinances, and in turn, it keeps us as a City from violating NPDES regulations,” said Garcia. “Through pollution prevention, our goal is to minimize the amount pollutants which could jeopardize our Class A compost status, prevent pollutants from passing through the treatment plant which could potentially harm the environment, and to protect the City’s wastewater infrastructure.”
LCU Customer Central can be reached at 575-541-2111 from 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. LCU provides clean, safe, and reliable services to Las Cruces residents and businesses. Learn more at: las-cruces.org/180/Utilities For emergencies, call Dispatch at 526-0500.
PHOTO 1: LCU Industrial Waste Program Inspectors (left to right): Ed Southworth, who oversees the backflow prevention program; Damon Barnes, who oversees the FOG program; and Jeff Garcia, who oversees the industrial pretreatment program. Not pictured, but part of the team: James Woods, interim Pollution Prevention Manager.