On Thursday, El Paso Water threw open the doors at the W.E. Robertson Water Treatment Plant in honor of the plant’s 75th anniversary.
Chihuahuita neighbors, former employees and water sector professionals streamed inside, eager to tour the historic yet pioneering plant, as mariachis and folklorico dancers provided entertainment.
“This plant represents the foresight of city individuals who dedicated their lives to ensure that El Paso has a continuous, safe and sustainable supply of water,” said President and CEO John Balliew, who fondly recalled beginning his utility career at the plant’s laboratory more than 30 years ago. “We had a great group of employees back then, just as we have now.”
Public Service Board member Dr. Kristina Mena spoke about the importance of river water and what it means to El Paso’s water supply. The water treatment plant came online during a time of remarkable growth for the borderland.
Residents faced crime, growth, health and environmental challenges, some linked to water quality and supply.
“This beautiful plant marked El Paso’s first step to diversify its water supply so El Paso could thrive and sustain itself,” Mena said. “The importance of river water cannot be understated. Today, El Paso relies on river water for half its water supply in a non-drought year.”
EPWater commissioned a painting by local, acclaimed artist Patrick Gabaldon to mark the occasion. The painting features the close relationship between colorful Chihuahuita and the water treatment plant.
“Although the community did have to part with some of their cherished sites to make room for the construction of this plant in the 1940s, within time many in Chihuahuita came to accept the plant and understand that it was necessary because it would benefit the city,” said Christina Montoya, Communications and Marketing Director. “Many residents also took jobs at the plant.”
Chihuahuita Neighborhood Association leader Manuela Rodriguez couldn’t contain her excitement once inside the plant.
“Just walking in brought a lot of memories of my dad who worked here for a long time,” she said. “We fished back here.”
The painting was the cherry on top and a nice personal touch, she said.
“What caught my eye was the poles of red, white and blue because my brother and the neighborhood decided to paint all the poles around the neighborhood with the colors of the flag when 9/11 happened.”
To benefit community improvement projects identified by the Chihuahuita Neighborhood Association, signed prints of the painting were sold during the event and will still be available, with funds collected by the El Paso Community Foundation.