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Water Maintenance crews adapt to changing needs

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Submitted Photo Maintenance workers make repairs to a waterline after an equipment operator has removed pavement and dirt to uncover the line below the street.

Making sure water can reach the homes, businesses and other properties of Roswell residents is the task of the city’s Water Maintenance and Transmission Department. It’s no small job considering most people rely on, and probably take for granted, the water they find ready at their fingertips anytime they need it for a myriad of needs.

The employees of this department are responsible for maintenance of the water lines that carry the water from the city’s storage tanks and wells to the customers. That’s more than 300 miles of underground pipes, some as small as three-fourths of an inch in diameter to others as large as four feet in diameter. Water Maintenance and Transmission is regularly installing new waterlines and repairing older ones when they leak.

And when a line needs some work, the situation can often occur without warning and amid a full slate of other maintenance projects already on the schedule.

“Our daily challenge is never knowing what will happen,” says Robert Glenn, the City of Roswell’s

Water Maintenance and Transmission deputy superintendent. “It is a common joke in the utilities industry to ‘Have a good plan for the day at 7 a.m. and it has completely changed by 7:10 a.m.’ We have to be very adaptable to constant change. We prioritize what projects, work orders and service requests need to be completed and constantly reevaluate as new information comes in. You have to be open-minded and think outside of the box to work in this department.

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“What sets us apart is our adaptability. We can go from doing one project, switch 180 degrees and jump into something else with no problem.”

A roster of about 25 employees is led by Glenn and his boss, Interim Utilities Superintendent Lorenzo Sanchez. They oversee a variety of skilled personnel, including field supervisors (responsible for crew coordination, safety, equipment, inspections and working with contractors) and senior maintenance workers who serve as crew leaders for the maintenance workers and heavy equipment operators.

“The maintenance workers are the guys you see in the holes making things happen,” Glenn says. “The maintenance workers are the backbone to the department.” Rounding out the Water Maintenance and Transmission roster is an administrative assistant (responsible for running the office, answering phones, maintaining department records, dispatching calls for service and maintaining the work-order system) and an underground utility locator (taking care of requests through the New Mexico 811 Dig Line people must call before digging, so underground utilities can be marked to prevent them from being damaged).

There are also a couple employees whose responsibilities reach beyond this department in which they are based. They are the warehouse workers who maintain inventory in the city warehouse. While the warehouse is important to the Water Maintenance and Transmission Department for all the various repair and construction parts it needs on a regular basis, the warehouse serves all city departments with different items. This system allows the city to purchase commonly used items in large quantities, enabling a cost savings.

The rest of the Water Maintenance and Transmission team also works with many of the other city departments when needed to deal with water-related issues or use equipment and staff to assist another department with a project.

Although Glenn and his crew like to be as helpful as possible, there are times when they have to explain to water customers the limitations of their specific jobs. “We are not plumbers,” Glenn says. “The certifications we carry with the State of New Mexico allow us to work on city-owned infrastructure only. The customers own anything after the water meter (connecting the residence or business to the city system) and we are not permitted to work on it.”

Instead, the department’s workers stay busy maintaining and repairing the city waterlines that deliver water to each customer. While they cannot control when and where leaks may occur, the crews do try to get them fixed as quickly as possible. “Leaks happen where there is a weakness in a pipe or pipe joint,” Glenn explains. “Changes in pressure, shifting of the soil and changes in temperatures are some of the major causes of leaks.

“What we do and how we do it have not changed much over time. We may use different equipment or materials, but we still have to work on the infrastructure the same as our predecessors. If it leaks, we dig it up and patch it or replace it.”

Todd Wildermuth is public information officer for the city of Roswell.