Utilities director, mayor, residents address water outage

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By Jason Brooks

Wednesday's monthly Las Vegas City Council work session didn't have any water emergency items on its agenda — but that's the topic that dominated much of the meeting.

Utilities Director Maria Gilvarry gave a detailed description of recent water leaks around the city and other circumstances those led to residents in the Camp Luna area, and a handful of other west-side areas, to be without water for at least several days.

"Due in part to our aging infrastructure, the temperature changes in some water lines expanded and contracted enough to crack," Gilvarry said. "Normally, we'd have about three or four days' worth of water in the Cabin Site 5-million-gallon tank, but with that offline until Jan. 28 for rehab, here we are, pumping at capacity at the water treatment plant, trying to get water uphill to Camp Luna. This is a short-term set of problems with our gravity-based system, exacerbated by the lack of the big tank."

The full meeting, with audio, can be viewed here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2GN4wdOS6I&feature=youtu.be

Gilavarry's lengthy explanation included mention of several leaks found around the city, especially on the west side, beginning over the weekend. Many city staff, including those not normally assigned to public works or water operations, were directed to drive around the city to search for leaks — especially in ditches and arroyos. Gilvarry said several leaks were detected with the help of various city staff.

One of the major leaks, located at the city's solid waste transfer station, caused the city's system to lose a great deal of water, and while the treatment plant tries to recharge pressure on its own, the high-lying areas, such as Camp Luna and Creston Circle, will be the places where it's toughest to restore service.

"We've actually been having leaks around the area since mid-December," Gilvarry said. "I knew when we started that much-needed rehab project at the 5-million-gallon tank in June that there could be issues in taking it offline as far as backup, and we made it all the way to November."

Gilvarry, Mayor Tonita Gurulé-Girón and City Councilors thanked all the people who helped fix leaks and provide water to Camp Luna residents. Some city staff were working on leaks in cold, wet situations, just days after dealing with back-to-back snowstorms amid freezing conditions.

Gilvarry also said her department is in the process of purchasing new leak detection equipment, recently approved by the Council.

Big R of Las Vegas, which donated a small, temporary water tank, and newly elected San Miguel County Commissioner Harold Garcia, city staff and county staff were all thanked for helping deliver water to Camp Luna residents. Service was out from Sunday until at least Thursday morning; Gilvarry didn't have a time frame for how long it would take to restore full water pressure to all residents and to nearby Luna Community College.

Brenda Ortega, who works at the college, was allowed by Gurulé-Girón to speak at the meeting, even though she hadn't signed up for public input before the cutoff time, 15 minutes before the work session began. She said those in the area wanted to be "part of the solution," if necessary, and pointed out there are senior citizens in the area and a Luna early-childhood program that would greatly suffer without water service for extended periods of time.

Luna Interim President Ricky Serna said the campus, which starts spring classes this coming Monday, Jan. 14, had to close early on Monday, Jan. 7, and opened at noon Tuesday, despite not having water service. Staff had to drive to New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute on Hot Springs Boulevard to use its restrooms, prior to water service being restored to campus late Wednesday afternoon.

Cisco Rubio, a resident of Hermosa Circle in the Camp Luna area, asked about both billing adjustments related to the outage and about ways area residents — some of whom are not tech-savvy — could be notified about future outages and other emergencies.

The mayor and council discussed notifications, mentioning the city has a website and social media outreach. Mass text-messaging notifications were not discussed.

"Can we do better? Yes, absolutely — we can do better," Interim City Manager Anne Marie Gallegos said. 

Recent efforts to clear roads and pick up regular curbside trash were also discussed. Gilvarry said clearing ice and snow from the streets directly impacted trash service that had already fallen behind due to the frequent weather-related closure of the transfer station, as the city's largest garbage trucks cannot be safe on icy streets that have even the slightest inclines. Some trash must be collected on those streets using pickup trucks.

The Council met in executive session to discuss a personnel matter regarding apparently one employee, whose name and position were not disclosed.

In regular action at the work session, the city added several items to its agenda for this Wednesday's 6 p.m. regular monthly action meeting:

• Acceptance of funding in the amount of about $19,000 from the Traffic Safety Bureau for overtime to conduct traffic operations.

• Approval of a resolution to lease-to-own a new 2018 Elgin Whirlwind dual- broom sweeper. The down payment is about $32,000 and the total cost of the lease will be more than $300,000.

• Approval of a resolution to purchase a new 2019 Ford F-750 bucket truck through Don Chalmers Ford and Clark Aerial Lifts. The total price, including the aerial lift for a 52-foot reach, is about $221,000; Council and mayor recalled a recent expensvie rental of Franken Construction equipment to repair light poles at Rodriuez Park's baseball fields.

• The awarding of a request for bid to remodel the "Mills Building, formerly a State Police station, to Stoven Construction, Inc. Councilor Vince Howell wants to see descriptions of similar work done by Stoven prior to this Wednesday's vote on the award.

• Approval of the purchase of a used semi-truck for the Solid Waste Division, to haul green waste to a dump facility, for about $50,000. Councilor David G. Romero said he wants Gilvarry to at least inquire about an extended warranty for the truck.

• Approval of the purchase of a transport trailer for the Solid Waste Division for $101,000. The trailer purchase is intended to be used with the purchased semi, though it could be paired with other city trucks as well.