Photo courtesy EPWater

El Paso Water continues work on sewage main repair project

Crews with EPWater continue their efforts to minimize impacts of wastewater discharge to Rio Grande, after the sewage main break from August.

Officials say crews working to install the replacement for the Frontera Force Main pipelines, near Sunland Park Drive and Doniphan Drive, have reached 81% completion. According to officials, the project remains ahead of schedule.

At this week’s Public Service Board meeting, a second phase of a wastewater discharge mitigation plan was introduced that will soon divert additional wastewater from the Rio Grande to the Haskell R. Street Wastewater Treatment Plant in Central El Paso. The plan includes pumping sewage wastewater into a pipeline that feeds into the Haskell Plant.

“This plan can potentially remove three million gallons of wastewater per day,” said Gilbert Trejo, Chief Technical Officer. “Our goal is to remove as much wastewater as possible from the Rio Grande and clean it.”

The first phase of the mitigation plan started in late September when the utility started diverting wastewater to the Roberto Bustamante Treatment Plant in the Lower Valley.

“The initial concept was to block the entire flow in the river and pump it into the Bustamante Plant,” said Trejo. “We found that blocking the river entirely could cause a backup and lead to flooding, so we had to allow some overtopping of the barrier, but the diversion effort has been largely effective at capturing flows.”

The Bustamante Plant has treated more than 50 million gallons of wastewater from the river. After treatment, the clean water is discharged into an irrigation canal managed by the El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1.

EPWater is conducting water testing of wastewater in the riverbed, and initial results reveal no detection of chemicals or toxic substances. Arcadis, an environmental engineering consulting firm, has been contracted to lead an environmental assessment of the impacts to the river, aquatic life, and vegetation and is conducting regular water testing.

“We care about the health our river and the river ecosystem,” said Trejo. “We welcome the expertise to help guide us on corrective steps to reduce adverse impacts and help with environmental restoration.”

Beginning on August 13, the utility experienced multiple breaks to the Frontera Force Mains. On average, the lines carry about 10 million gallons of wastewater from West El Paso every day. Additional breaks – and wastewater backups in a low-lying Upper Valley neighborhood– forced EPWater to make the difficult decision to divert wastewater to the Rio Grande in late August.

The utility reported the initial sewage wastewater emergency to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and has maintained regular contact with the agency throughout the process.

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