By Cassie McClure
Published in Las Cruces Bulletin 4.22.2022
It’s 8 a.m., and two crews from Las Cruces Utilities (LCU) are already set up at two locations on opposite sides of town. It’s part of LCU’s Water line of business, employees in the Meters, Valves, and Hydrants (MVH) program.
Off North Fairacres Road, LCU MVH Crew Leader Mike Lara is at a water meter relocate. A relocate is done when an established water meter needs to be moved to another location on a property, in this case, out of the way of a new driveway.
It would take about two hours to complete, with his two crew members working in tandem. One grabs more equipment for the next stage, and Lara jumps into the hole with a wrench to make sure everything is lining up.
Lara has been with LCU for four years and previously was an equipment operator for Las Cruces Public Schools. There was a lot to learn, but he said he picked it up quick – and learning from his Deputy Director Ron Borunda who helps crew members studying for their level certifications with math twice a week.
Lara enjoys working with the crew and customers. He’ll try to reach out to customers as soon as he gets the work order and knows when he can schedule his crew to get out there. But, like others, he’s on rotation being on-call and remembers how the last water main break kept him there until four a.m. after they had been working for two days.
“The pipe was old; it broke three times before we could finally fix it,” Lara said. “Those things are out of our control but we work until completion. We just hope that the customers bear with us.”
Lara snaps a picture of the water meter box in its new location – to update the work order virtually – before waving to have the digger push the dirt back in with the bucket.
Over off Roadrunner, LCU MVH Crew Leader Donnail Bailey estimated 11:30 a.m. to finish replacing a hydrant. After twenty minutes and finding a huge block of cement at the base of the hydrant under compacted dirt, Bailey said they’d have to reassess that estimate.
Someone had run into the hydrant, something he's seen before. “Especially around New Year’s Eve,” Bailey stated. He’s been with LCU for three years but has worked in construction since 2010.
“I love my job, you have to be ready to work hard and long, but it’s live-action, with the active water lines,” he said. “We get a lot of support from Ron, who considers our suggestions when we’re handling a job.”
Support is key. While the crew of three works on the hydrant, other LCU crew members come to drop off the new hydrant and supplies. Bailey jumps into the hole for the jackhammer, and the other crew member moves trucks, collects debris, and hands the other two tools. While still in the hole, Bailey directs traffic that has stopped in front of LCU cones and is confused by the closed road in their neighborhood.
“Be patient with us to let us do our job,” Bailey said. “Just keep an eye out for us while you’re driving.”
LCU – Your Utility Connection. 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 MVH Crew Leader Mike Lara
PHOTO 2: LCU MVH (left to right) Heavy Equipment Operator Lorenzo Tovar, Crew Leader Donnail Bailey, Heavy Equipment Operator Robert Meraz