Bustamante Plant | Photo courtesy EPWater
Officials with EPWater has implemented a mitigation plan to reduce the environmental impact to the Rio Grande of wastewater discharged in the river, as the result of the Frontera Force Main emergency.
The wastewater discharged near Doniphan and Racetrack Drive is now being diverted through irrigation canals, where flows will travel about 20 miles downstream to the Roberto Bustamante Wastewater Treatment Plant in El Paso’s Lower Valley.
“We moved quickly on this plan to ensure the wastewater does not go beyond the El Paso County limits,” said EPWater Chief Technical Officer Gilbert Trejo. “The ongoing multi-agency coordination is instrumental in helping the utility get through this wastewater emergency.”
The concrete-lined Riverside Canal will convey the wastewater to the Bustamante Wastewater Plant for treatment. The treated water will be discharged into a different irrigation canal managed by the El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1.
Efforts to disinfect and deodorize the ponds near Doniphan Drive and Sunland Park Drive are winding down. Wastewater levels have decreased significantly after repairs were completed to one of the Frontera Force Mains last week.
EPWater crews will begin to remove topsoil from the affected ponding area.
In March 2020, the Public Service Board declared an emergency and started a two-year pipe replacement project of the wastewater mains after a condition assessment revealed significant corrosion.
The new wastewater mains are made of fiberglass, a corrosion-resistant material. The project has been accelerated to be completed in November 2021.
Until the new pipeline connection is made, EPWater will continue to release some wastewater to the Rio Grande for several miles before it is diverted and conveyed to the Bustamante Plant for treatment.
The utility cautions the public to continue to avoid all contact with river water from the Paisano and Racetrack area to the Lower Valley.
Beginning on August 13, the utility experienced multiple breaks to the parallel wastewater lines. This set of pipelines collects all the Westside wastewater – from showers, sinks, and toilets. On average, the lines carry about 10 million gallons of wastewater 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 wastewater emergency to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and has maintained regular contact with the agency throughout the process.