Nedra Murphy
Engineering intern Nedra Murphy at secondary clarifier at the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority's South Valley Wastewater Treatment Plant.

It began as an experiment. New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) Pollution Prevention Program manager Jill Turner had federal grant money she could use to provide technical assistance to utilities and businesses.Shortly thereafter, Turner began talking with Mechanical Engineering Professor Tariq Khraishi about his STEP program that matches students with engineering internships over the summer. She found four students interested in her trial program.

Civil engineering student Nedra Murphy spent eight weeks over the summer at the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority reporting the impact a new regulation was likely to have on industries that hold Wastewater Discharge Permits.

“The work experience was priceless," Murphy said. "I learned a lot of information extremely relevant to my engineering degree.”

She was paid by the NMED through UNM to analyze water effluent concentration data from the past two and a half years to identify pollutants of concern. That’s important to the water authority because it could impact their National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.

Murphy also calculated which pollutants discharged from the wastewater treatment plant are closest to being out of compliance with the Clean Water Act and the average flow rate so that it could be compared to the allowable maximum calculated by the ABCWUA’s Industrial Pretreatment Engineer Mark Kelly.

The experience pleased everyone. Kelly said, “This was useful and more UNM engineering interns would definitely help in the future.” Murphy enjoyed her work so much, she convinced Turner to hire her part time at NMED and is now doing assessments of facilities for the Rio Rancho Public Schools and developing technical assistance workshops for industry.

The P2 program at NMED is designed to provide technical assistance to businesses that want to conserve water or energy, reduce solid or hazardous waste. “We take these students and we give them background and training in pollution prevention practices and then send them to a host organization for eight to ten weeks,” said Turner. 

Graduate student Nick Provencher spent the summer at Intel where he altered a computer program that tracks energy use in various areas of the plant. His work proved valuable enough to the company, that they hired him part time as he completes his degree.

Sarah Rojas Briceno, a civil engineering student, spent the summer working with a model that calculated water loss in delivery systems for the Rio Rancho Water Utility. She was helping collect information from two local subdivisions so their water loss could be calculated. This fall she is working for the water utility in Albuquerque.

Lauren Breitner worked at TemperPedic over the summer where she learned the manufacturing process, observed an area where the facility might be able to conserve on the amount of glue they use and left recommendations for the new environmental manager they have hired.

Turner says the P2 Internship Program that was piloted last summer is the first of its kind in New Mexico, and will continue next summer. She likes this program because it gives the department, which is responsible for regulating industry, a great opportunity to help businesses reduce their waste stream and improve their manufacturing processes.