Employees, legislators and industry experts gathered Friday to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Desalination Plant and its ushering of El Paso Water as a front runner in the industry.
“Given the vast brackish groundwater resources, desalination is an important part of the puzzle that will ensure we have a vital water future for this community, including for our kids, grandchildren and anybody that wants to live here in the future,” said John Balliew, president and CEO of EPWater.
When Ed Archuleta first came to the utility in the late 1980s, El Paso was facing a bleak future in water management – including predictions the city would run out of water by 2009.
Archuleta, former President and CEO of the utility, spoke about the challenges El Paso faced when he first arrived.
“How can you have economic development if people don’t have water,” he said. “Water means public health, water means security, but it also means economic development. This city was trying to find ways to provide economic development, but we had this issue that we were known as the city that might run out of water.”
Since opening shop in 2007, the groundbreaking KBH Desalination Plant has played a pivotal role in building up El Paso’s resiliency to droughts, changing weather conditions and the city’s steady growth. Producing 17 billion gallons of water for El Pasoans since opening, the plant is a key piece of El Paso Water’s water supply strategy and helps protect the fresh groundwater supplies of El Paso and Fort Bliss.
“This is an amazing public-public partnership that stands as a great example to the rest of the arid west and is an essential component of El Paso’s portfolio of water resources to help sustain the thriving local economy and the military operations at Fort Bliss,” said Guy Carpenter, President of the national WateReuse Association.
The KBH Desalination Plant has also become a model, attracting visitors from around the globe – especially from other inland cities facing more frequent droughts and other serious water supply challenges.
“The plant is a unique asset to this community that sets El Paso apart; it is a part of the story of the innovation here in in the city,” Mayor Dee Margo said.
The celebration featured tours of the desalination plant and the new Enviro Water Minerals plant, which will be the first full-recovery desalination facility—taking the waste brine concentrate from the KBH Desalination Plant and turning salts and minerals into commercial products. As part of the resulting process, EWM will produce up to 2 million gallons of water per day for El Paso.
Researchers also convened to share results of work underway or completed at the Consortium for Hi-Technology Investigations in Water & Wastewater (CHIWAWA) research laboratory, which is housed inside the plant.
“The research underway here will shape the future of desalination for the nation,” Archuleta said.