Photo courtesy EP Water
Have you heard the one about the El Paso Water phantom employee wearing a white coverall suit who continues to perform his job duties long after his shift ended decades ago at the Robertson/Umbenhauer Plant?
Or the one about the employee who finished his shift, had a fatal heart attack and was seen reporting to work the next morning?
For decades, employees have been sharing ghost stories of the multiple sightings reported at the Robertson/Umbenhauer Plant – dubbed the Canal Plant by locals.
Located in the historic Chihuahuita neighborhood, the Robertson Water Treatment Plant has been treating river water for more than 75 years in Central El Paso. El Paso’s population boom in the 1960s compelled the Public Service Board to authorize an expansion. The Umbenhauer plant was completed in 1967.
For his 27 years as an EPWater employee, Superintendent Ruben Montes has been hearing ghost stories about the plant.
Montes was mostly a skeptic until he had his own ghostly experience during an overnight shift three years into his job at the plant. Just after midnight, he walked to High Lift Station No. 1 – where other operators had reported ghostly activity – to record a water meter reading.
“I felt like someone was watching me,” Montes said, adding that the hair on the back of his neck stood up. “I didn’t want to turn around. I took the reading, and I was out of there fast.”
Utility Engineer Associate Maria Betancourt had several experiences at the plant in 2014 when she and other EPWater employees were taking a series of preparation courses for an engineering exam.
When Betancourt needed a restroom break, she asked where she could find the nearest one. With all plant employees gone for the day, she used one close by that is typically used by male employees.
“As I came out of the bathroom stall, I went to wash my hands and I turned because I felt a presence,” Betancourt said. “I screamed when I saw a man standing there, watching me.”
That was the first time she saw the man, dressed in the light blue button-down shirts that utility employees wore in the days of yesteryear. Before Betancourt used the restroom the next time, another employee checked it first, then gave her the all-clear.
“You tell yourself you’re just seeing things, but the same thing happened,” she said. “I left the bathroom stall and was washing my hands when I felt the presence again. I turned and he was there, staring at me.”
The plant’s location near the banks of the Rio Grande contributed to another of Betancourt’s ghostly experiences. Betancourt and Utility Engineer Associate David Tirre were walking to their cars at night after another exam preparation course.
“We were talking, and all of a sudden I saw this man jump the fence and run past us,” Betancourt said. “‘David, did you see that guy who just ran past?’ He didn’t see anything, but I did.”
Montes once chased after a ghost, though he didn’t know it at the time.
Montes and a former operational control systems employee at the plant were conducting business in an upstairs office when the employee suddenly jumped out of his chair and ran into the hallway. When Montes asked what was wrong, the employee ran downstairs and yelled at Montes to run upstairs and give chase.
When Montes eventually caught up with the employee after finding nothing, he pressed for further details. That’s when the employee told him he saw a man peek into the office through the slightly open door. The man vanished.
Whether or not the Canal Plant is home to otherworldly spirits, employees’ spooky accounts – disembodied voices and ghosts looking out from windows and then finding no one there – continue to multiply.
“I have heard from many who say that they feel like they are being watched,” Montes said. “I have also heard from others who say that when they are walking around the plant, they see shadows out of the corner of their eye. When they turn around, nothing is there.”
Author: EP Water