Monday morning, officials with El Paso Water announced the launch of the design phase for a new project to take treated Rio Grande water during plentiful years and use it to recharge a local aquifer.
“Banking water in good times makes it available for withdrawal when river water is in short supply, without putting an extra burden on the aquifer,” said Gilbert Trejo, Utility Chief Technical Officer.
As part of the natural water cycle, rain and snowmelt percolate through the ground, helping to recharge groundwater. In recent decades, water utilities have been using artificial recharge or aquifer reinjection to accelerate that natural process to help stabilize aquifers, improve water quality and prevent land subsidence or a sudden sinking.
The master plan for the project, prepared by Moreno Cardenas Inc., recently received a Gold Medal award from the Texas chapter of the American Council for Engineering Companies.
One of the features is an enhanced arroyo for infiltration, which offers the added community benefit of water smart landscaping and a trail along the rim of the arroyo.
“The natural geology of the arroyo will allow treated Rio Grande water to seep into the aquifer, increasing EPWater’s storage options,” Trejo said. “The project is also strategically positioned to capture stormwater and to receive a quantity of wastewater treated to drinking water standards.”
During the planning process, EPWater took inspiration from Albuquerque’s Bear Canyon Recharge Project.
This plan created a drought reserve for future municipal use by directing San Juan-Chama river water – from the Colorado River Basin – and delivering it to the Bear Canyon arroyo channel, where it infiltrates into the aquifer.
Just as using reclaimed water is an important water supply strategy, aquifer storage and recharge is an additional solution to help address the nation’s water supply challenges.
Sometimes the two can be integrated into one project, such as in El Paso.
But it’s up to water utilities to make sure these projects are properly sited, designed, constructed and operated to build and maintain public trust, Trejo said.
“This project gives EPWater an opportunity to capture a valuable water source, which otherwise would have been unused, and store it for future generations,” he said.