It’s an exciting time for the Los Alamos County Department of Public Utilities (DPU). The department is addressing several major projects such as the replacement of the wastewater treatment facility in White Rock, the Carbon Free Power Project, the installation of smart meters and a new water well. In addition, DPU has a new manager, Philo Shelton, leading it.
Shelton started his new position June 30. Previously, he was the Public Works Department Director for seven years. He took over the DPU manager position from Tim Glasco who retired officially July 12.
Chair of the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) Carrie Walker spoke to Los Alamos County Council during its meeting June 25, when it approved hiring Shelton for his new job.
She said Glasco was leaving after serving DPU for 24 years, five of which was spent as its manager. She noted Glasco was an effective leader.
“On behalf of the board, I just want to express our gratitude for his service to the department and to the County,” Walker said.
She added, “It’s a pretty exciting time for utilities, nationally but also locally. There are a number of challenges we face whether it is aging infrastructure or changing markets or rising concerns over carbon emissions. But on the other side, it is also a time of great opportunity. So, with that in mind we bring forth the appointment of Mr. Shelton … he’s been with the County since 2012 … and he brings with him a wealth of experience to this role. We are confident the department will continue to excel under his leadership.”
During an interview with the Los Alamos Daily Post, Shelton said he has worked in public utilities in the past, particularly in municipal water.
He explained he came from Steamboat Springs, Colo., where he ran water and wastewater utilities for a about five years.
Before that, Shelton said he worked in Black Hawk, Colo., running its water system.
Additionally, Shelton said he earned a civil engineering degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder, which focused on water treatment.
“I’ve always been interested in water,” Shelton said. “So, it was a great opportunity to get back to the water business.”
He added he is excited for all the projects that DPU is focusing on.
Shelton mentioned BPU discussed approving the contract for the design of the new wastewater treatment plant in White Rock during its meeting Wednesday. Additionally, DPU will receive a report on its new water well’s pump test. Shelton said the new well should be a strong water producing well.
He mentioned he is excited to take part in the Carbon Free Power Project and mentioned DPU just finished its application for a Zia Award from Quality New Mexico. As part of the process for determining if DPU should get the award, Quality New Mexico is expected to conduct a site visit either in October or November.
“So those are things to be excited about,” Shelton said.
There are challenges, too. DPU raised rates most recently in electric and water but last year sewer rates were also increased.
With utilities, Shelton said, you can’t just set a rate and forget it. A lot of things go into a rate such as capital and maintenance costs.
“The business always changes … it is a challenging enterprise,” he said.
Not only is there a cost to supply the utilities but Shelton pointed out the department needs to repair and replace and rejuvenate its systems.
Los Alamos’ unique topography is also challenging, he said.
“A challenge with our community is that it is small in population, but it is built on mesa tops … you are going up and down these deep canyons,” Shelton said.
However, with the staff at DPU, Shelton is confident those challenges can be met.
“We have a professional staff that is very knowledgeable and experienced,” he said, adding, “It’s just gratifying to work with people who have that knowledge.”
Shelton said this is the fourth municipality he has worked for, but it is “by far the best. Just the staff and the community are just a pleasure to work with.”
He added he has worked for cities that have a population of 100,000 but Los Alamos, with its population of about 19,000, has far more engaged citizens. Shelton said he is happy to meet with anyone.
“I’m here to serve … as I learn more about the intricacies of the job, I’m happy to meet with anyone or the public is welcome to attend a board meeting for public comment and the board welcomes community feedback,” Shelton said.