By Cassie McClure and Suzanne Michaels
Published in the Las Cruces Bulletin 7/26/19
Even at 8 a.m. it’s hot. Despite the hot temperatures, 15 young City of Las Cruces employees under a local Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) grant are ready to start their duties on City fields. These youths are using their summer to learn about career development, water resources, water conservation, and real jobs available within the City of Las Cruces. They have a chance to walk away with a professional and nationally recognized certificate enabling them to start a possible career in water-efficient landscaping.
This joint project between the City of Las Cruces Parks and Recreation Department (P&R) and Las Cruces Utilities (LCU) is possible thanks to a $100,000 grant awarded to the City from the YCC, a National Park Service program. The program is designed to engage young people in meaningful work experiences in national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and fish hatcheries, while developing an ethic of environmental stewardship and civic responsibility.
In Las Cruces, the youth range from 16 to 21 years old; and from June 3rd to August 31st they are temporary, full-time City employees making $10.70 an hour. By the end of August – while learning about jobs available in P&R and the Water/Wastewater Lines of Business at LCU – they will have toured LCU water wells and wastewater treatment facilities, gone through mock interviews, life skills training, and received career information. They will understand the education path they can follow to apply for jobs with the City of Las Cruces.
“They get the full experience, learning life skills like showing up on time and working in teams,” said Cathy Mathews, P&R landscape architect. “But it gets advanced by the broad variety of what they’re exposed to, from garden maintenance to trail building to performing irrigation system audits on our sports fields.”
Rhonda Diaz, LCU water conservation coordinator, explained that this youth program is all about education, future jobs, and understanding the entire process of how water is delivered. “Water conservation is a part of the whole system,” she said. “In the YCC program they have a chance to see the jobs associated with water production, wastewater treatment, even recycled purple pipe water.”
The youth employees also have the chance to get certified - by taking lessons and passing the national test - in QWEL, making them Qualified Water Efficient Landscapers.
Hal Senke of Resource Wise is an experienced local environmental consultant who is also the contractor coordinating the student’s activities. He has watched this group grow in the short time they’ve been together.
“They get a chance to learn from the last ten years what we as irrigation technicians have learned - not only the traditional methods of irrigation – but also how we are stepping back and letting nature help do some of the work,” Senke said. “Programs like this allow young people to get their hands wet and dirty to see what careers in landscape design and water conservation could look like.”
You can reach Las Cruces Utilities at 528-3500 from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Las Cruces Utilities provides GAS – WATER – WASTEWATER – SOLID WASTE services to approximately 100,000 Las Cruces residents and businesses.
PHOTO 1: IRRIGATION AUDIT: The youth employees are setting up to do an audit of the City’s irrigation system on the Provencio-Van Dame soccer fields at the corner of Solano Drive and Hadley Avenue. They will inspect sprinklers and place “catch cans” to measure exactly how much water is going on the turf from sprinklers.