City water meeting focuses on improving emergency response

By Tony Parra

Debi Lee, Portales city manager, said the purpose a Friday water meeting was to create a history of the events leading to the recent water outage and find out what can be done differently next time.

Managers and directors for the city of Portales discussed every aspect of response from each department and talked about what can be done differently in the future.

“In my 33 years of municipality experience, I have not had a situation like this occur,” Lee said. “Overall I was happy with how we handled the situation. I have received letters and e-mails of support for the work that was done.”

One of the things they would like to do differently is have an emergency medical technician on site for the workers. Chuck Haman of the Portales Fire Department and Roosevelt County emergency management coordinator said there is a need for a safety officer to help with workers suffering from exhaustion and hypothermia.

Joe Ramirez, utility superintendent, said water department employees worked continuously from late Friday night to late Saturday night to get the water running again.

Another thing they would like to see is GIS (Global Information System) mapping in Portales to show were all the natural gas, water, utility and sewer lines are and where the water valves are. Lee said city officials applied for a grant in January from the state of New Mexico to pay for GIS mapping. She said they will know in March if they received the money.

Lee said she would also like to have a contact list similar to the one at the Portales Police Department in case of emergencies.

Jeff Gill, Portales police chief, said he was contacted on Saturday afternoon by New Mexico Health Department officials to close down restaurants in Portales. Gill told the group that for the most part restaurant managers readlily complied.

Portales water department officials concede there is a need for water valves and upgrades but they know they’ll be costly.

“There are areas that are going to need money to fix,” Tom Howell, public works director said.

Some of the maps the water department has are outdated. Ramirez said the MP NexLevel employees have been helping mark water valves during their work on the fiber-optic project for Yucca Telecom.

Portales Fire Department Chief Raul Muniz said firefighters will be testing hydrants in March to see how much water pressure is in each of them. This will also be useful information for the water department in their updating of pipeline maps, officials said.