Bustamante Plant | Photo courtesy EPWater
Through hundreds of miles of underground pipes, the Roberto Bustamante Wastewater Treatment Plant takes in wastewater from parts of east El Paso and is permitted to treat up to 39 million gallons per day.
As the city expands, El Paso Water is taking on a major project that will optimize the existing plant by improving the wastewater treatment process and increase the plant’s capacity, extending its lifespan by 30 years.
“We are at a point in time in which the plant is very near capacity in the amount of wastewater it takes in,” said David Ornelas, Wastewater Systems Division Manager. When a plant reaches 75% of its capacity, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality mandates a plan for expansion.
The Bustamante Plant, located along the Rio Grande in El Paso’s Mission Valley, opened in 1991. It is designed to treat wastewater and return clean water to the Riverside Canal or Riverside Drain.
Much of the treated water helps with downstream irrigation needs and also sustain the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park and its habitat.
The treatment process of wastewater begins when it arrives at the headworks of the Bustamante Plant, a pumping station that takes in the wastewater arriving from the plant’s service areas. The headworks improvements are crucial for odor control and maintaining a stable flow of wastewater.
“Wastewater flows have not increased dramatically in the last ten years because of conservation over the years, but the organic load has continued to increase,” said Ornelas. Organic loading is any waste that gets flushed or sent down drains from residences, businesses and industries. The increase is attributed to the growing population of the city’s eastside.
Expanding the Bustamante plant will allow treatment of an additional 12 million gallons of wastewater per day with upgraded aeration basins that will remove more contaminants to produce higher quality reclaimed water. Additional primary and secondary clarifiers will be installed, which help polish the water after it is biologically treated.
The headworks improvements and expansion of the plant are expected to be completed by 2025 and 2026, respectively.
Utility officials say that expanding the Bustamante Plant will enable continued reliable wastewater services to a growing east El Paso and
is also part of an extensive plan to build a sustainable water future for the city.
“Expansion is happening at a great time because the Bustamante Plant will provide water to the Advanced Water Purification Facility that will be built next door,” said Ornelas.
The Advanced Water Purification Facility will take in treated wastewater from the Bustamante Plant and will be purified with an additional multi-step treatment process to remove any remaining impurities before putting it directly into the distribution system. The facility will be able to produce an additional 10 million gallons of drinking water per day.
The projected growth of the city is not slowing down, and EPWater is finding innovative solutions to keep up with demand.
“This plant expansion will help accommodate population growth and deliver on both water and wastewater needs in the area through 2050,” said Ornelas.