When you brush your teeth each morning, do you ever pause to think about how that fresh water arrives at your tap?
Beyond the water tanks, pumps and pipelines that deliver water to your home, there is also a carefully engineered design process to produce cost-effective, high-quality water through advanced technologies.
Water utilities provide a critical, basic service to communities. They are actually at the cornerstone of public health, yet we take for granted our basic water and wastewater services and the public health benefits they provide.
As a health professional, it’s concerning to see how many places around the globe lack basic water and wastewater infrastructure. Lack of sanitary systems to properly drain sewage are the leading cause of waterborne disease worldwide.
Water-scarce countries, in particular, face both water quality and quantity challenges. Countries like the United States, however, have systems in place that separate wastes and contaminants from water, achieving public health principles at the most fundamental level.
A solution to supply needs
Like El Paso, many growing cities in arid regions must overcome growth challenges and innovate to serve increasing numbers of homes and businesses. El Pasoans know that every drop of water counts. We see constant reminders with limited rainfall and long-term river drought. This year, we have yet to see the Rio Grande flow through our city and will only receive three out of six months of our usual water supply.
El Paso is prepared for drought because of our wise investments in desalination and water reuse. For over 30 years, El Paso Water has treated wastewater to drinking water standards and returned it to the aquifer so that it’s there when we need it.
El Paso’s next logical step in water reuse is to purify treated wastewater to drinking water standards with advanced technologies, so that it can go directly into our water distribution system. The process involves a multi-barrier approach that combines advanced filtration and disinfection technologies designed for public health protection.
The redundancy provided by the different types of treatment technologies effectively removes some of the most-resistant contaminants. Purified water is among the highest quality drinking water produced, yet some question the safety of using purified water as a drinking water source.
Human health risk assessments have been conducted to evaluate the likelihood of infection or illness through contact with purified water. Interestingly, assessment outcomes inspire confidence, but false perceptions of associated health risks have hindered acceptance of this drinking water source.
Highly engineered treatment processes allow us to treat wastewater in methods mimicking the natural water cycle. We are already exposed to recycled water because many upstream communities, such as Albuquerque, have wastewater treatment plants that discharge effluent into the Rio Grande, which then is treated for our drinking water.
As a member of the National Water Research Institute Advisory Panel that has reviewed the full-scale pilot for this facility, I can assure you the holistic approach to purification provides the necessary public health safeguards. Continuous water quality monitoring by Texas Commission on Environmental Quality provides oversight and accountability.
EPWater is designing the Advanced Water Purification Facility to send purified water straight to your tap. The quantity – 10 million gallons per day – will get us through a dreaded drought year when river water doesn’t arrive at all.
Mena is secretary-treasurer for the Public Service Board, which governs El Paso Water.
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