Opinion split on wastewater issues’ urgency

QCS photo: Steve Hansen An overview of the Tucumcari Wastewater Treatment Plant, looking south. The tall structure behind the plant is the city's abandoned ethanol production facility.

QCS photo: Steve Hansen
An overview of the Tucumcari Wastewater Treatment Plant, looking south. The tall structure behind the plant is the city’s abandoned ethanol production facility.

By Steve Hansen
QCS Managing Editor

Tucumcari’s wastewater treatment plant is facing issues, but there are questions about whether the treatment plant’s problems are greater or more urgent than those of other city departments.

Michael Rivera, interim supervisor of the wastewater plant, told Tucumcari City Commissioners on Sept. 26 that the plant was underfunded, understaffed and was missing key components.

Charlie Sandoval, assistant city manager, said the wastewater treatment plant is having problems, but they are no more critical than other problems facing city departments.

Commissioner Dora Salinas-McTigue, however, said the sewage treatment plant’s issues, along with use of Tucumcari’s landfill by other communities, which pay the city to use the facility, were her reasons for advocating the dismissal of Tucumcari City Manager Doug Powers.

Commissioner Robert Lumpkin said the city’s new landfill east of the city was designed to be a regional facility, and that revenues from other communities are being used to prepare a new section of the landfill at a cost of nearly $500,000.

The wastewater treatment plant’s problems apparently start with devices that are supposed to remove grit and paper trash from the wastewater that enters the plant before it passes through to treatment stages, Rivera said.

A grit auger device, which removes grit from the water, Rivera said, hasn’t functioned properly since 2007. As a result, he said, grit has been found in pumps that deliver wastewater into the stages of treatment. Paper trash and other solid matter suspended in wastewater should be removed by a screening device that is also not working, Rivera said. As a result, some solid matter that should be removed remains in the water through all stages of treatment, he said.

The plant was upgraded in 2011 with $9.1 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program and federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. The grit auger and the screening device were not replaced, Rivera said.

One of the pumps that pushes wastewater into primary treatment areas, Rivera said, has been shipped to Albuquerque for repairs, but cannot be repaired because the city has not allocated the funds.

The facility, Rivera said on Sept. 26, needs at least two more staff members, along with a plant manager.

Rivera said that federal Environmental Protection Agency officials inspected the plant in August and found problems with manpower and the non-functioning equipment.

Powers explained at the Sept. 26 meeting that since qualified plant operators are needed for these positions, they are hard to fill. The city continues to advertise statewide to find properly qualified applicants for these positions, he said.

The manager position has been vacant since the death of manager Joe Ramirez in early July.

Powers also said the city was requisitioning $1,800 for the trash screen and $7,500 to purchase ultraviolet light bulbs that help disinfect water that has been through both stages of treatment before it is sent to storage pond as fully reclaimed water.

Rivera also said that the plant’s equipment budget of $5,700 for the year is inadequate, when replacement pumps are priced from $2,000 to $7,000 each.

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