Photo courtesy EPWater

EPWater shares journey to social distancing, keeping utility running during COVID19 emergency

Before the first case of Coronavirus (COVID-19) was reported in the city, El Paso Water officials share the steps they took to secure the workplace for employees and the public.

Social-distancing guidelines were quickly implemented in early March, and customer services shifted online to reduce the risk of exposure, minimize the spread of the virus and protect the health and safety of employees and customers. With new safety protocols in place, EPWater moved to ensure critical facilities would keep taps flowing.

“These may seem like extreme measures, but we are doing everything in our power to protect the health of both our employees and customers,” said John Balliew, President and CEO.

Inside the workplace, EPWater employees canceled business travel, limited in-person contact and made teleconferencing the new norm.

Fleet Maintenance and Stormwater employees made sanitizer spray to disinfect utility vehicles, and a specialty firm was hired to sanitize some EPWater facilities.

“We are moving to take every precaution in this rapidly changing situation,” said Alan Shubert, Vice President, Operations and Technical Services. “We are continuing to adapt and to adopt new strategies to avoid spreading this virus.”

At the Roberto Bustamante Wastewater Treatment Plant, essential employees are taking new preventive measures. Working safe means

Photo courtesy EPWater

staggering lunch breaks and routinely disinfecting workstations, chairs and tables, Superintendent Martin Ortiz said.

“We are also disinfecting our tools before and after using them to eliminate contamination,” Olivas said. “On the supervisory side, we are being vigilant to spot an employee showing signs of illness.”

At job sites, employees in the field continue to provide the same essential services of repairing main breaks and water outages, but with precautions.

“We are following social-distancing procedures, sanitizing and drinking from individual water containers,” said Felipe Lopez, Utility Chief Operations Officer.

“In our line of work, we rely on teamwork, which usually requires two people. They make the repair but immediately separate once the task is complete.”

Around EPWater, a portion of the workforce began working from home, if their responsibilities could be performed remotely. Other workers resumed essential duties at the office.

Senior Secretary Liz Parra, one of the few in her department not working remotely, is busy balancing new electronic procedures in Project Management.

“It’s been pretty hectic,” Parra said. “We’ll make it through this and hopefully be more efficient than we were before.”

Photo courtesy EPWater

New social-distancing guidelines required new accommodations for some Customer Service employees across EPWater.

“We spread out employees to adhere to the guidelines,” said Mark Bolduc, Business and Customer Service Manager. “Some are working remotely, some remain in the call center, and some are spread across the Hawkins building. These measures help us to minimize risks to everyone as much as possible and still keep services flowing for our customers.”

With new safety protocols in place, EPWater continues to monitor the COVID-19 crisis and respond.

The Public Service Board meeting on April 8 was held via teleconference and the public was urged to listen to the audio stream.

Across the utility, employees are doing their part to stay positive.

“The Employee Assistance Program is still available for employees,” said Ana Sanchez, Utility Human Resources Manager. “I experience fear like everyone else, but it is important to have faith that we will get through this. This is temporary. As one of my favorite sayings goes, this too shall pass.”

Above all, senior leaders at the utility are grateful for employees’ steadfast dedication and teamwork to keep taps flowing.

“I couldn’t be prouder of our staff for coming together during this extremely challenging time,” said Marcela Navarrete, Vice President of Strategic, Financial and Management Services. “We ask everyone to keep themselves safe and healthy by continuing to practice social distancing, washing hands often and staying home if sick. The community is counting on us to continue to provide services, and I know we will not fail them.”

To follow the latest updates on how EPWater is responding to COVID-19, click here.