Success Takes Everyone. A New Mexico Treatment Plant Shows How.

An award-winning New Mexico plant meets tightening permit limits with continuous upgrades, dedicated operators and a responsive board of directors.

Success Takes Everyone. A New Mexico Treatment Plant Shows How.

Gerardo Gonzalez Ortiz, full-time operators and one part-time operator run and maintain the cooperative’s wastewater and groundwater treatment systems. 

Residents of the Las Campanas subdivision near Santa Fe, New Mexico, enjoy beautiful neighborhoods, amenities, and scenery. They also benefit from an award-winning water and sewer cooperative.

Operated by Jacobs (formerly CH2M), the Las Campanas Water and Sewer Cooperative and its staff make sure the community receives top-notch water and wastewater services. The water and wastewater facilities consistently meet regulatory requirements.

Three operators handle a 0.3 mgd wastewater treatment plant, a 1.5-mgd groundwater treatment facility, the distribution and collections systems, and pump stations and lift stations. The wastewater plant won the 2017 Plant Performance Award from the Rocky Mountain Water Environment Association.

Gerardo Gonzalez Ortiz, cooperative project manager, says, “We’ve worked closely with the Las Campanas community and also the board of directors and management team to invest in technologies and improvements that have made our great service even more efficient and attentive.”

Challenges include meeting the new wastewater permit issued in 2017. “We met compliance last year, but we plan to do a wastewater treatment equipment condition assessment to make sure we can still meet our goal,” Gonzalez Ortiz says. “Some of this equipment has been here for 18 years.”

Continuous upgrades

The cooperative’s conventional wastewater treatment plant was built in 1994 and upgraded in 2007. It serves a population that peaks at 1,400 in summer. Jacobs has operated the facility since 2000.

Wastewater from the collections system enters the headworks and is sent to the equalization basin and then to one of two 200,000-gpd sequencing batch reactors (Aqua-Aerobic Systems). The effluent is then disinfected with sodium hypochlorite before tertiary treatment in two sand filters (Everfilt).

All effluent is reused to irrigate the subdivision’s golf course. “The effluent automatically discharges to the golf course lake,” Gonzalez Ortiz says. “Per our discharge permit, if any effluent parameter is out of compliance, we have to discharge to the onsite effluent storage pond. That change must be done manually.”

Liquid biosolids (385,000 gallons per year) are hauled by an outside contractor to the Santa Fe County wastewater treatment plant. Improvements to the plant in the last few years include:

  • SCADA system upgrade (GE Digital iFIX).
  • Computerized maintenance management system (Maintenance Connection).
  • Cameras at various plant locations and on the distribution and collections systems.

Improvements to the SCADA and CMMS systems include tablet-based interfaces that allow operators to work more efficiently and monitor operations when offsite. As a result, the plant has reduced operating costs while improving performance, reliability and safety. Gonzalez Ortiz says, “By updating the SCADA system, we now have the ability to protect the system from being hacked and from other cyberattacks.”

The CMMS has helped manage work orders, eliminate paperwork, increase productivity and reduce downtime and repair costs: “With a team of three, time is valuable, so having the ability to schedule, assign, and close work orders while we are in the field is a huge benefit.”

Busy team

Besides Gonzalez Ortiz, the cooperative’s team includes two full-time operators and one part-time operator. They are on call 24/7 and keep busy operating and maintaining the wastewater and groundwater treatment systems. One operator is assigned to each system, and team members rotate every three months. Operators perform preventive and light maintenance and housekeeping for both systems.

Responsibilities at the wastewater treatment plant and collections system include equipment operation, process control sampling, lab analysis, and lift station and manhole inspection. Operator responsibilities for the water distribution system include booster station inspection, meter reading, chlorine residual testing, meter testing and repair or changeout, opening and closing water valves.

The water system serves 400 to 800 people (peaking in summer). Source water is the Buckman Direct Diversion project wellfield and water treatment plant. “We purchase our water from Santa Fe County, and it’s received with a chlorine residual,” Gonzalez Ortiz says. “We monitor the residual daily and if necessary add sodium hypochlorite to boost the residual through the distribution system. The water system is more demanding because it requires substantial customer service.” 


Gonzalez Ortiz has been with Jacobs for 11 years. He reports to Douglas Gaumer, Santa Fe area manager, and David Sohns, southwest operations director. “I handle the management and financial side and also oversee the safety program,” he says. “I’m typically not out in the field unless a team member is absent and I need to help with a specific task.” Reporting to him are:

  • Ryan Lujan (Class II water and wastewater, 10 years with Jacobs) and Jesus Gonzalez (Class II water, 5 years), operators.
  • Kenneth Salazar (Class IV wastewater, 3 years), part-time operator.

Gonzalez Ortiz has high praise for the team: “My crew is very dependable. I can call them anytime, and they will do what needs to be done. They have the know-how and experience that you can’t learn in a book but is just common operator knowledge.” In 2015, Jesus Gonzalez won the Rocky Mountain WEA Operator of the Year award, after being nominated at his previous project.

Communication is key. Gonzalez Ortiz holds daily safety planning meetings, weekly process meetings and monthly team meetings: “Contact and information exchange among our team members is vital to staying engaged and informed on our daily activities and maintaining safe and efficient operations,” he says. “We have gone 10 years with no accidents. The operators have that safety mentality.”

After winning the George W. Burke Jr. Safety Award in 2016, the cooperative has continued to improve. Team members suggested creating an information center where they could easily access all safety-related news and topics. They also created a safety bulletin board with posters and information on topics like weather and lessons learned.

Future challenges

Operator challenges include meeting new wastewater permit parameters issued in July 2017. Gonzalez Ortiz says, “Because the effluent goes to the pond and is reused, some new parameters were included in our New Mexico environmental permit. There are 44 new annual parameters and two new quarterly parameters.

“So far, we’ve tested these samples only once, and all were well within compliance. We don’t anticipate any problems meeting the limits, but collecting and testing samples each year keeps us on our toes.”

The cooperative completed a wastewater treatment equipment condition assessment in June 2018 that will help identify which equipment needs replacing and how soon. A capital improvement plan will follow. Improvements are already in the works.

“We are planning to install GIS to monitor water distribution and collection pipe networks,” Gonzalez Ortiz says. “This will further enhance remote system monitoring and automation.” The team also plans to upgrade from flowmeters to Beacon advanced metering analytics (Badger Meter). The new meters will allow homeowners to track their water usage with a smartphone application and set up leak alarms.

Another goal is to upgrade the wastewater effluent line: “We’re discussing switching to an automatic valve, so that if we have to direct the effluent to the pond instead of the golf course lake, we won’t have to do it manually.”

As for the future, the team is well-prepared to continue delivering quality service. “Our success here is all about our people,” Gonzalez Ortiz says. “We can have all the advanced technologies and tools in the world, but teamwork is what makes really great operations and customer service. We talk to each other and watch out for each other and the residents we serve. That’s the real magic.”

Quick response

In May 2017, when a thunderstorm knocked out power to the Las Campanas Water and Sewer Cooperative Wastewater Treatment Plant, the operations crew acted quickly.

Gerardo Gonzalez Ortiz, project manager of the Las Campanas Water and Sewer Cooperative, remembers it well: “As the power was restored, the PLC that controls the effluent discharge valve failed to open the valve. The operations team received a high-level alarm from the SCADA system. Operators logged onto the system remotely and identified the problem.”

In about 20 minutes, operators Ryan Lujan and Jesus Gonzalez arrived at the plant. They rerouted the effluent to a pond to allow it to evaporate. The team then reprogrammed the PLC and returned the plant to normal operations. Gonzalez Ortiz says, “Thanks to the team’s quick response and commitment, the problem was corrected, and we avoided discharging partially treated wastewater.”


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.