WRITER: Jane Moorman
SANTA ANA PUEBLO, N.M. – The world of wastewater management has shifted for New Mexico’s Pueblo communities since the arrival of casinos.
Native American tribal wastewater treatment professionals are now facing issues associated with on-site systems that process wastewater from the newly developed casinos, hotels and restaurants, as well as other small-scale systems not connected to the communities’ centralized sewer systems.
For the past three years, New Mexico State University’s College of Engineering and College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences have provided on-site wastewater training to the tribal communities to address some of these issues.
“The trained professionals, who have been working with large-scale wastewater treatment for their communities, are facing different issues with the on-site wastewater systems,” said Adrian Hanson, NMSU professor and interim head of the Department of Civil Engineering. “The type of wastewater being handled by these systems is different because of smaller size and type of waste produced by restaurants and casinos.”
The New Mexico Tribal Management for On-Site Wastewater Program is supported by Environmental Protection Agency funds.
“Upper management in Washington likes what’s being done here in New Mexico. This training is reaching the people who are in the front lines of preventing pollution of our groundwater,” said Philip Dellinger, EPA Region 6 head of the groundwater and underground injection well control section.
The concept for the program began five years ago when EPA started hearing that the tribes needed some educational support.
“All of a sudden they were hit with these bigger on-site systems,” Dellinger said. “Some of the state regulatory inspectors reported that the tribes, especially those with casinos, were having to maintain systems they were not familiar with. So it was decided to finance technical training for the pueblos and tribes.”
During the past three years, the program has offered unique educational training necessary to increase the knowledge, skills and abilities of tribal members and practitioners who install and are responsible for the maintenance of decentralized wastewater systems.
“This program concentrates on meeting the needs of wastewater systems on tribal lands,” said Leeann DeMouche, NMSU water resource specialist. “The program functions as a clearing house of information to the tribes, including such topic areas as on-site wastewater technology, soil and site evaluation, installation and inspection, troubleshooting, and rules and regulations.”
The goal of the program is to provide each tribal community with the means to protect the public health and help their wastewater operators and installers operate their systems to the best of each system’s capability.
“During the past three years, we have trained more than 110 individual tribal members representing 19 of the 22 tribes in New Mexico, Indian Health Service engineers, and New Mexico Environmental Department specialists,” DeMouche said.
The training has included the basics about residential on-site wastewater treatment systems; analyzing wastewater treatment systems that serve facilities with high strength and hydraulic loading; the impact of fats, oils and grease from restaurants; and the installation of wastewater treatment systems, including septic tanks.
Hanson is joined in the teaching duties by Bruce Lesikar, Kaselco Materials vice president of engineering and formerly with Texas A&M University’s AgriLife Extension Service, as a small-scale wastewater treatment systems and water resources specialist. Materials for this training are provided by the Consortium of Institutes for Decentralized Wastewater Treatment.
“This is a great program,” said Michael Alvidrez, director of the Pueblo of Santa Ana’s utilities department and past president of the New Mexico Water and Wastewater Association. “They have provided some training that you can’t get anywhere else. The training is geared for the operators. They are getting down to the level that we can actually take something home with us.”