Even though The University of New Mexico’s main campus is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are certain jobs that remain on a regular routine for cleaning, maintenance and other necessary activities that keep the campus landscape looking beautiful and pristine. Cleaning the UNM Duck Pond is one of those activities.

While the campus has been closed for approximately month, the UNM Duck Pond received its biennial cleaning recently. In years past, cleaning the UNM Duck Pond was a major undertaking for Facilities Management (FM) staff, as well as for Biology Department faculty and students. To ensure the safety of the wildlife, prior to cleaning, animals that could be gathered were housed in pools and bins outside Castetter Hall along Yale Mall. FM staff would then drain the pond and remove excess sediment and waste that had settled to the bottom.

In an effort to minimize disruption to wildlife and maximize staff resources, FM Grounds and Landscaping Manager Richard Schorr looked to identify a new process. Recently, Schorr and UNM vendor All Fired Up tested a filtering process commonly used in the papermaking industry to separate paper pulp from its soaking solution.

Workers in chest-high waders entered the water with custom filter attachments connected to pumps that vacuumed up the sediment and waste from the bottom of the pond. The sediment slurry was directed into a large filter which extracted the organic matter and the remaining water was pumped back into the pond.

The test was successful and the decision was made to move forward with the cleaning which took place last week over UNM’s scheduled spring break. Not only was the pond cleaned without draining or displacing animals, it was done with a fraction of the human resources which was fortuitous timing given the reduced staffing during UNM’s limited operations on account of COVID-19.

“What we like about this process is how much more efficient it is,” said Schorr. “In the past we had close down the surrounding grassy areas, relocate the animals, and drain the pond completely. Water was wasted, animals were stressed, and campus life was disrupted.”

In addition to efficiency, the new process is much more sustainable saving an entire pond’s volume of water in an arid environment, while the collected organic material will be used to enrich the soil of an area farm highlighting UNM’s sustainability mission.

UNM has long been committed to reducing its impact on the environment and making the very best use of the state’s resources in a responsible manner. Founded in 2010, UNM’s Office of Sustainability encourages and facilitates sustainability efforts of students, faculty, and staff to continue the reduction of UNM’s environmental footprint.

UNM has defined the areas of sustainability to include energy usage, renewable energy, new building construction and remodel, transportation, recycling, purchasing, water usage, and food.

While few people have been on campus over the last month, UNM’s iconic Duck Pond will still be there glistening in the springtime sunlight when the campus resumes operations.