By Cassie McClure
Published in Published in the Las Cruces Sun News 08/09/20.
Outside the Las Cruces Utilities (LCU) Administration building is its Demonstration Garden, filled with native trees and plants. However, New Mexico State University (NMSU) professor Dr. Leslie Beck decided to walk across the parking lot – a different plant had caught her eye. It was the simple morning glory, famous for its pretty flowers, but a pest when it comes to local chile farmers.
Beck, an NMSU Extension weed specialist, was followed by a small, socially distanced Youth Conservation Corp (YCC) summer crew who was there to learn about responsible irrigation, but also weed management. Beck explained how to homeowners the flowers are attractive, but to chile plants, it’s deadly when the vines wrap around and choke the plant.
“You’d think we could just spray the morning glory, that’s the first reaction,” she said, “but most herbicides either don’t work or they also injure the chile. That’s why we have to understand effective integrated weed management as well.”
The YCC youth associates are part of a joint program with the City of Las Cruces Parks and Recreation (P&R) Department and the LCU Water Conservation Program that is made possible by a $129,683 grant awarded to the City from YCC, a National Park Service program. The program is designed to engage young people in meaningful work experiences in national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and fish hatcheries, while developing an ethic of environmental stewardship and civic responsibility.
The groups’ members ages range 16 to 21 years old and during the few weeks of the program are temporary, full-time City associates. The eight-member YCC crew will be conducting irrigation system audits at sports fields and parks in Las Cruces to gauge the efficiency of the irrigation systems. The YCC summer crew members are working under the same COVID-19 restrictions as all other City staff who are deemed to be essential. Among the restrictions will be social distancing, face masks, careful hand cleaning, and workspace and tool sanitation.
By the end of August – while learning about jobs available in both P&R and the Water and Wastewater Lines of Business at LCU – they will have toured LCU water wells and wastewater treatment facilities, NMSU turfgrass research center, and DACC Water Technology Program. Plus, all YCC summer crew members have already earned Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper (QWEL) Certified Professional titles by completing the intensive course and qualifying exam during the program.
“They will understand the education path they can follow to apply for jobs with the City,” said Rhonda Diaz, LCU water conservation program coordinator. “And it gives them the behind the scenes look at what it takes to supply this critical infrastructure, like water and wastewater, to residents.”
LCU can be reached at 575-528-3500 from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. LCU provides services to approximately 100,000 Las Cruces residents and businesses.
PHOTO 1: Dr. Leslie Beck explains to YCC youth associates – from left to right Christian Goff, Nicolas Trujillo, and Travis Rogers (YCC Facilitator) – how the simple morning glory can be a pest to local chile farmers. The LCU program allows the youths to get a sense of how landscape management can have a larger impact on the economic issues in a community.