Courtesy of the Las Cruces Bulletin, by Todd G. Dickson
While the region is facing one of the worst droughts since the 1950s, businesses and industry were already working to reduce water use and waste. In a presentation to the Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance Tuesday, Aug. 7, at the Hotel Encanto de Las Cruces, speakers from southern New Mexico businesses gave examples of their effort.
Although the Olive Garden restaurant is a new addition to Las Cruces, manager Russ Hernandez said its parent company, Darden, owns some 2,000 restaurants nationwide and has all onboard with its sustainability plan developed in 2008. The plan’s goal is to reduce water and energy consumption by 15 percent, with zero waste going into the landfill by 2015, he said.
Restaurants use “tons and tons of water” for food handling and cleanliness, Hernandez said, and it is even a greater challenge for a restaurant such as the Olive Garden that specializes in fresh pasta, which requires boiling water. Nevertheless, Darden already has been able to reduce its water consumption by 17 percent, he said.
At Olive Garden, the kitchen uses low-flow sprayers and hand washers, he said. Pans for functions such as cooking pasta have been converted to those requiring less water, he said, and floor cleaning is no longer done by mopping, but by an enzymatic cleaner. The restaurant is inspected monthly for leaks and there are regular meetings of a “green team” of employees to review efforts and strategies, he said. To succeed in creating these kinds of conservations and savings, it’s important to get everyone at the business behind the effort he said.
Terry Mount, who heads Doña Ana Community College’s water technology program, said DACC’s EPA State Environmental Training Center was created by federal clean water standards, but now the need for water treatment expertise has gone beyond traditional utility water and wastewater treatment. For example, some of the program’s graduates now work at Intel in Rio Rancho because the process of making microchips requires ultra-pure water.
The biggest challenge facing water consumption, Mount said, is not the sensitivity to water usage by business as much as by the general public. Even in a drought, water currently is relatively inexpensive, so people take its supply and affordability for granted, she said. “People turn on their water faucet and expect clean, fresh drinking water, as if by magic.” Mount said.
Miriam Kotkowski, president of the Border Industrial Association, said there is great progress being made at the Santa Teresa border crossing, but that increase in trade and industry also requires improvements in water utilities. The area needs to plan for water supply to coincide with desired development, she said.
Josh Orozco, board member of the Camino Real Regional Utility Authority, agreed that supply of basic needs such as water and electricity are “the unsung heroes of development.” If there is a problem of people questioning the purity of the water or its availability, even that perception can squash economic development projects, he said.
Santa Teresa is now the second largest industrial region in New Mexico and area leaders need to make sure the water and wastewater capacity is in front of that growth, Orozco said.