By Cassie McClure and Suzanne Michaels
Published in the Las Cruces Sun-News 7/28/19
It was a tour of the Las Cruces Utilities’ (LCU) Jacob Hands Wastewater Treatment Facility that first sparked an interest in the mind of a local youth. Dustin Arriola remembers the class trip to tour the facility that left him wondering if this could be the start of his career.
“It was the chemistry component, specifically in the wastewater side that I found interesting,” he said. “How we convert wastewater into clean water, the whole process uses biology in a real way and keeps it environmentally sustainable.”
Arriola is 17 years old and will be a senior next year at Arrowhead Park Early College High School; he’s considering taking water production classes. But first, he’s spending his summer with the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) grant-funded employment with the City of Las Cruces. Managed by LCU and the Parks & Recreation Department (P&R); 15 students are learning the ins and outs of how the City provides and uses water.
“We get them out to actually do hands-on work,” said Rhonda Diaz, LCU Water Conservation Program coordinator. “They can’t learn everything in a classroom, they have to be out in nature to understand the processes that allow not only water delivery
to our homes and businesses, but also how we plant and maintain sports fields, and how we process wastewater.”
Arriola says one of the things he’s found the most surprising is how much he’s learned about working with other people, especially in reading how people react to him. “I’m learning that the way you say something really matters.”
These soft skills are critical for youth who have little or no job experience, like Cinthia Valdez. Her mom discovered the YCC opportunity on GovernmentJobs.com and recommended that she apply for a position, Cinthia was a prime candidate for the YCC, a National Park Service program.
The program is designed to engage young people - who have little or no previous employment - in meaningful work experiences while developing an ethic of environmental stewardship and civic responsibility. Those in the summer program can also be nationally certified - by taking lessons and passing the QWEL national test - making them Qualified Water Efficient Landscapers. (is this true?)
“I had never considered what it takes to keep the fields irrigated, and didn’t even really know what irrigation was,” she said. “But I was ready to go into a job and now feel so prepared that I could find another job.”
“This program was especially good for someone who has no experience like me, learning how to work and grateful to have the one-on-one guidance from City staff,” explains Valdez. “They are so helpful because they know what it takes to do what they’re teaching us to do.”
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: Dustin Arriola examines the irrigation controllers at the Provencio-Van Dame Soccer Complex. This summer, he’s working with City employees completing water system audits to make sure the turf is healthy throughout the field, all the while being conservative and not overwatering. This real life training allows younger members of the community to learn the skills necessary to enter the workforce.