Annual releases from Elephant Butte Reservoir into the Rio Grande are a large part of our water supply, and the length of the season is dictated by the amount of seasonal snowmelt runoff received.
When the Rio Grande stopped flowing last fall, employees of the Jonathan Rogers Water Treatment Plant took advantage to do some major work to the four Archimedes screw pumps at the facility. Archimedean screw pumps? As in, Archimedes, the famous Greek inventor, engineer and physicist?
The screw pumps are indeed named for Archimedes, but there are accounts that date the technology back 1,000 years BC.
According to Greek historian Strabo, these Archimedean screws were used to irrigate the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. And now, 3,000 years later, El Paso Water uses them to move water at both the Jonathan Rogers Plant and the Fred Hervey Water Reclamation Plant.
According to Warren Marquette, Capital Projects Manager, each screw pump can move 22 million gallons of water per day from the Rio Grande up to the five settling ponds that supply the Jonathan Rogers plant.
“Each pump is 90” diameter, has two screws per shaft and is inclined at 38 degrees,” he said. “It is driven by a 125 horsepower motor and rotates at roughly 30 RPM. By far, these pumps deliver some of the highest volume of water for the power required to operate them.”
The maintenance, upkeep and recoating of these pumps during the months the Rio Grande is not flowing ensures maximum movement of water when it is released in spring and summer months.
“We replace the bearings on one of the screw pumps each season,” Marquette said. “The original gearboxes have all been replaced over the past three years. And there are plans to replace all four pumps and the entire lube system. The first one is on the way and should arrive in October.”
Although the Archimedes screws no longer provide water to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, they will continue to provide safe, reliable water to El Pasoans for decades to come.
An unusual visitor started making regular appearances at the construction site of the Thomas Manor Park Pond Improvement project a few months ago.
As construction workers and engineers worked to deepen the pond and expand the stormwater infrastructure, they discovered an owl in the area.
“We got a call from the contractor that there was an owl living on the site,” said El Paso Water Project Manager Ryan Stubbs. “It was living in a spot where they had done some work. It moved over to another spot and kept moving to different areas of the project.”
After discussing the matter with the project consultants and the landscape architects, the decision was made to contact Texas Parks and Wildlife.
“They were very concerned about the owl living in a drainage pipe because they were going to have to move that pipe,” said Lois Balin, Urban Wildlife Biologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife. “I went and assessed the situation to see what we could do.”
A protected bird
The owl living in the drainage pipe is a male burrowing owl, a bird federally protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Burrowing owls are listed as Endangered in Canada and Threatened in Mexico.
They are a Bird of Conservation Concern at the national level in three U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regions, and they are listed as a Species of Concern at the state level.
“The workers were sure there was a pair (of owls) in the area,” Balin said. “I started looking for evidence of a pair because we were approaching breeding season.”
Because of their special status in the state, Balin said it’s especially important not to disrupt owls while they are breeding. But because it was early on in the season, there was a possibility the female owl had not begun laying eggs. Using some cameras, Balin looked for evidence of a nest.
“Luckily for the project, it hadn’t laid any eggs yet,” Balin said. “So I knew it was okay to make a habitat for them in a safer area. The owls would find it and move in on their own.”
A team effort
Balin builds habits for burrowing owls, but she usually installs them alone with a shovel. It typically takes her an entire day to dig and bury the habitats. But the contractors were not going to let her tackle that project by herself.
“They were so helpful,” Balin said. “I’ve never worked with a more delightful crew. They brought their heavy equipment, which made it so easy and efficient.”
With the help of the crews, two underground shelters with built-in tunnels were quickly installed in less than an hour. One shelter is for the female, nest and hatchlings.
The second shelter is the “man cave” where the male will sleep when he is not hunting or guarding the other burrow.
“They seem to be doing just fine,” construction Foreman Jerry Patton said. “We wondered how long it would take them to find it. Lois said they would find it right away. We were kind of doubtful. But we noticed two days later, they had moved in.”
Community help needed
For Gisela Dagnino, Engineering Division Manager for Stormwater Technical Servies, the owls have been an excellent reminder that although EPWater projects provide great benefit to the community, they may impact wildlife and nature.
“We have to be mindful of the community, but also of the flora and fauna that we may disrupt,” Dagnino said. “I believe our projects can be successful and beautiful without having a permanent detrimental effect on nature. It was up to us to make these owls safe.”
As the project comes to a close, EPWater and Texas Parks and Wildlife will work with the landscape architects to ensure that the area has the open space the owls need to thrive. According to Balin, additional warning signs and perhaps some form of soft fencing will be installed to protect the birds from human intrusion. Thomas Manor Park is scheduled to be in full use by the fall of 2019.
“El Paso Water, Parks and Recreation, the consultants and the construction company should be commended for protecting these birds,” Balin said. “El Paso is fortunate and blessed to have these adorable, little owls living amongst us. They eat all kinds of insects and rodents, so they’re good for the environment. But we all need to appreciate them, at a distance.”
Nearly three decades ago, the area’s aquifers were being pumped heavily to meet growing demands, and El Paso Water learned from several engineering studies that El Paso was at risk of running out of water by 2030 unless major changes were made.
The utility began an aggressive conservation program to reduce water consumption, expanded water recycling and constructed a new water plant to increase the use of river water.
The then-new plant added 40 million gallons of treated river water to the system and helped reduce the strain on underground sources. It was named in honor of four-time El Paso mayor and U.S. Army Veteran 1st Lt. Jonathan Rogers.
“As the population grows, so has the demand for water,” said Water Plant Superintendent Mike Parker. “This plant has been there to offset some of those demands, and it will continue to do so.”
In 2002, the plant was expanded to produce 60 MGD, further preserving underground supplies for future use.
As El Paso Water celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Jonathan Rogers plant, officials say the facility is an example of “how each plant not only serves the community, but also helps to protect other valuable water resources.”
In order to treat river water, the state-of-the-art facility was designed with granular activated carbon filtration and an ozone disinfection system.
The Jonathan Rogers plant was a pioneer on the frontier of the developing ozone technology, which is now known for being highly effective in removing bacteria and assuring the quality and safety of drinking water.
“The equipment and technology used to produce ozone at the plant is one of the greatest features of the plant,” said Frank Regalado, Water Plant Assistant Superintendent.
Currently, the plant is in the process of replacing the system for the latest model in a $17 million project upgrade scheduled for completion in 2019.
“I look forward to the new streamlined system and its increased efficiency in disinfection,” said Regalado.
Since 1993, the Jonathan Rogers plant has been transforming river water into drinking water, and it holds a special place in the hearts of many who work at the plant. Parker remembers the excitement of his first day at the plant. “It was new, it was innovative for the utility, and the excitement was in the air.”
Several employees of the plant have been there from the beginning and take pride in the facility.
“I’m proud to teach the newest of our employees the technology that we use at the Jonathan Rogers plant to be able to deliver high quality water to our community,” said Regalado.
Imagine deeply rooted artistic rock walls adorned with wrought-iron detail enclosed the sleek, modern architecture of a new building. Water-smart landscaping surrounded the grounds showcasing the beauty of native El Paso flora.
Is this a luxury resort? No, but it may represent the future for some upcoming El Paso Water facility projects.
EPWater has facilities throughout El Paso that produce reliable, high quality drinking water. Others perform stormwater flood control functions with the vital task of collecting and cleaning wastewater from homes and businesses. Although they are necessary locations, they do not have to be unsightly.
“That’s one of the top priorities in the job I’m doing right now – to look at facilities and come up with recommendations to beautify them for the community,” Construction Superintendent Art Quijano said.
For future projects, EPWater will evaluate whether beautification is needed to better compliment neighborhoods. The utility is also evaluating existing structures in need of aesthetic improvements.
One of EPWater’s latest upgrades was to the Pico Norte Lift Station, a facility situated in the heart of the Pico Norte community that pumps wastewater to plants for treatment.
“We took the surrounding area into consideration, including the YMCA, Eastwood Middle School and the Pico Norte Park,” Quijano said. “We wanted it to be modern and blend in with the neighborhood, but we didn’t want it stand out. It needed to have attractive features with curb appeal.”
The redesign swapped the 1960s mansard-style roof with a sleek, flat front. The building’s newly installed metal siding was extended upward to cover rooftop equipment as well as shield the surrounding community from the noise it can produce.
LED lighting and siding materials were chosen for its look as well as long-term savings from low energy usage and durability.
Residents walking the park trails expressed delight when crews ousted the industrial looking chain-link fence and barbed wire to make way for updated rock walls, matching wrought-iron detail and an enhanced gateway.
“As we were working, they would comment, ‘Looking good. It’s about time,’” Quijano said. “They could see the difference.”
In just a few short months, Mulberry Pond in the Upper Valley will be the next project to receive a face-lift.
The site near Mulberry and Doniphan recently underwent an odor-control overhaul and will soon feature a new rock wall with wrought-iron detailing and a low-cut corner to enhance traffic visibility around the pond.
The nearby lift station will be hidden by the new wall and possibly repainted. A gate will update site security and discourage children and adults from entering the canal, which can fill up with stormwater and flood in minutes.
Quijano said Mulberry pond is located close to residential communities and feels this is an important site to tackle.
With many sites on Quijano’s radar he said, “It feels good that I can help improve the neighborhoods for so many people.”
El Paso Water will close a portion of George Dieter Drive from just before Scott Simpson Drive to just past Rex Baxter Drive starting July 9 to replace a 30-inch water main.
EPW officials say, “The project is part of the utility’s corrosion prevention program…EPWater is replacing water mains ahead of schedule to prevent potentially longer traffic delays and service disruptions.”
Southbound lanes will be converted into two-way traffic. Lane restrictions will begin at Vista Del Sol Drive and end at Pellicano Drive.
The proactive water main replacement project will help prevent a potentially larger and longer closure due to pipe corrosion issues in the area.
The closure is scheduled through the end of October, pending any additional work that may be required during the project.
Drivers should anticipate congestion and traffic slowdowns near the construction, and are encouraged to seek alternative routes. Residents on the west side of George Dieter can use westbound Rex Baxter to Billie Marie Drive to access Vista Del Sol.
Residents on the east side of George Dieter can use Scott Simpson Drive.
Customers can get sandbags for flood control any day of the week beginning Friday, July 6. The expanded site locations and hours will be available through September 30.
The summer distribution sites will reopen in the Mission Valley, west, central and east areas of El Paso, and hours will be extended at the Stormwater Operations Center, which is open throughout the year.
Customers in areas prone to flooding are encouraged to have sandbags on hand before most heavy rains begin. The limit is 10 bags per visit.
El Paso Water does not charge for sandbags. Persons who cannot lift heavy items should be accompanied by someone who can assist with loading and unloading the bags.
Summer Distribution Locations & Schedule June 26 – September 30
Stormwater Operations Center
4801 Fred Wilson Ave. 79906 (map)
8 a.m. – 8 p.m.
2 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Artcraft Booster Station
7830 Paseo Del Norte (map)
2 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Haskell R. Street Wastewater Treatment Plant
913 S. Boone St. (map)
2 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Cielo Vista Booster Station
9428 Daugherty Drive (map)
EPWater received this award for successfully completing a comprehensive self-assessment of distribution system operations and optimization that demonstrate the utility’s commitment to delivering safe, high quality water to the community.
“We are honored to be one of an elite group of systems to receive this award,” said EPWater CEO and President John Balliew. “Our utility’s goal is to be a leader in optimization and to continuously strive to optimize performance and provide high-quality water. The award demonstrates our ongoing commitment to protecting public health.”
The self-assessment process involves evaluation of distribution system operations and performance, identification of performance limiting factors and the development of action plans to achieve distribution system optimization. A final step involves participation by independent experts in a peer-review process, who prepare and publish a completion report.
The Partnership for Safe Water is a voluntary self-assessment and optimization program for water treatment plant and distribution system operations.
More than 250 utility subscribers, collectively serving more than 85 million people are committed to the Partnership’s goals of providing safe, high-quality drinking water through achieving operational excellence. Partnership members participate in a rigorous four-phase self-assessment and peer review process, developed by industry experts, and are recognized broadly for their commitment to delivering safe water to their communities.
EPWater was one of a select group of utilities recognized at the annual conference of the American Water Works Association on June 12, for achieving the Directors Award-level of performance within the Partnership’s Distribution System Optimization Program.
The Shack Wings & Brews Restaurant has always been committed to saving water, but the owners never thought they would be honored for it.
“It’s a surprise to us, and we’re grateful for the recognition because we believe in conserving water,” Co-Owner Adrian Soto said.
El Paso Water recognized The Shack Wings & Brews, located at 1883 N. Zaragoza, at its 2018 Conservation Hero event at the El Paso Chihuahuas’ baseball game.
“Of all the restaurants here in El Paso, to come out on top… wow,” General Manager Jaime Garcia said. “It’s a good feeling.”
The Shack – as well as 52 other restaurants – were screened and evaluated to become Certified Water Partners. Criteria included the responsible disposal of fats, oils and grease to protect wastewater systems, water efficient faucets, toilets, washing machines and more.
“The more water efficient products used, the bigger the point value,” said Norma Guzman, EPWater Water Conservation Specialist. “We tally up all those points and if they’ve reached a certain benchmark, then we can certify them as a partner.”
Based on scoring, The Shack ranked the highest in terms of water conservation.
Garcia has been in the restaurant industry for over 30 years and attributes the restaurant’s success to foresight and attention to detail.
“We were willing to spend a little more money to buy the commodes,” Garcia said. “We considered whether it would help us save money in the long run, and as you can see it paid off.”
Garcia said leaking faucets also have to be addressed immediately. “It’s amazing how much water you can lose with just one leaking faucet.”
For restaurants considering becoming a Certified Water Partner, Soto said, “Do your part to conserve. Every little thing counts. I thought I was the small guy in the industry, and we made an impact.”
Though restaurants can see an immediate return on water bill savings, conservation also helps ensure a sustainable water supply for El Paso’s future.
“It shows a partnership, that we’re all in it together – it’s not just residential and individual people,” Guzman said.
On Tuesday, city officials announced that some homeowners in Districts 2 and 4 will save $9 million dollars due to the City working closely with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to remove homes from the flood zone map and the Public Service Board (PSB) for making improvements to Channels 1 and 2.
“The flood zone removals were possible due to the excellent working relationship between the City, FEMA, and the PSB,” said City Manager Tommy Gonzalez. “El Paso homeowners in those districts will benefit by not being required to have flood insurance.”
“This system of integrated flood control projects is a great example of the stormwater fee at work,” said John Balliew, El Paso Water President and CEO.
“The $14.6 million Northeast flood control project significantly improves public safety and protect private property.”
The city shared the following projections, based on the number of parcels removed from the maps. The City, FEMA, and PSB are currently working on removing flood zones in Districts 3, 6, and 7.
District 2 homeowners will save $1.3 million with the removal of 698 parcels
District 4 homeowners will save $7.7 million with the removal of 4,178 parcels.
Homeowners will benefit by
Lowered insurance rates or not having to pay flood insurance
To celebrate National Infrastructure Week with utilities across the country, EPWater is highlighting some of the many projects in and around the city.
For 2018, EP Water officials say they are investing $75 million to replace aging water and wastewater lines, rehabilitate wells and reservoirs, and make much needed upgrades to various facilities.
El Paso Water maintains over 2,653 miles of water lines buried beneath the city – enough to stretch from El Paso to the tip of Maine – and crews are always working to upgrade the elaborate system.
With many storage tanks, pump stations, and treatment facilities working alongside stormwater structures like dams, channels and ponds; a system of this size requires continual investment in the rehabilitation of aging infrastructure, as well as new construction projects to support city growth.
One such project features EP Water crews replacing one of the oldest water storage tanks dating back to the 1920s: Jackson Ground Water Storage Tank.
To improve capacity and reliability of service for nearly 200 locations in west central El Paso, the tank is being replaced with a three-million-gallon tank, pump station and connections to the distribution system.
The project will restore the tank to its original storage capacity, ensuring reliable service during drought and emergencies.
Aesthetic improvements include a new rock wall with decorative wrought iron fencing, water-smart plants, and a newly paved access road shared with neighbors. The construction cost for this project is $4.6 million.
Not too far away in central El Paso, the Haskell R. Street Wastewater Plant dates back to 1923. The plant provides essential services to nearly 150,000 customers by treating 27.7 million gallons of wastewater per day.
Projects underway will improve efficiency, reliability and odor control. Odors have been a persistent problem in surrounding neighborhoods for decades, but work performed at the plant and with the incoming distribution systems has slashed detectable odor to the community by 75 percent.
Recent upgrades have overhauled the “degrit facilities”—one of the first stops in the treatment process, mitigated odors from incoming wastewater mains, and upgraded primary clarifiers and related enclosures. The upgrades will continue with planned improvements to pumps, mechanical screens and compactors as well as an aeration channel cover, which together should eliminate odors beyond the plant boundary.
Across town, the Thomas Manor Park Pond and Pump Station Project is a good example of blending infrastructure needs with quality of life improvements.
While EP Water works to improve flood control and increase public safety, the park will get a facelift thanks to the partnership between EP Water, the City’s Parks and Recreation Department and the Ysleta Independent School District.
Infrastructure updates include: a relocated pond that will increase stormwater capacity by more than 11 million gallons, a rehabilitated pump station, and replacement of aging water and wastewater pipes within the park.
The new park-pond design will not only capture stormwater runoff but also create recreational opportunities for nearby residents by providing fresh turf for green fields, updated walking trails, and a new play area.
El Paso Water, the City of El Paso Environmental Services Department and the El Paso County Water Improvement District #1 (EPCWID #1) announced the kick-off of a public service campaign to bring attention to the City’s major illegal dumping problem and urge citizens to play a role in helping stop it.
More than 140,000 pounds of trash were illegally dumped in ditches, arroyos and across El Paso within the last year. Tires, mattresses, shopping carts and even toilets are among the most frequent items found and removed.
“Illegal dumping is a big problem in El Paso. Everybody needs to do their part to stop it,” said El Paso Water President and CEO John Balliew. “Our crews dedicate a significant amount of time and money to clearing out the trash. We could be using those funds to build more stormwater ponds that keep water off our streets.”
Balliew also pointed out that even a small amount of trash can clog drains and canals, creating a serious flood safety risk in a matter of minutes. He said the problem becomes particularly dangerous during the monsoon season and urged residents to call 311 to report illegal dumping.
City of El Paso Environmental Services Department Deputy Director Kurt Fenstermacher warned illegal dumping carries big consequences: it’s a Class C misdemeanor and you can face up $4,000 in fines.
“We all have to do our part to keep our city safe, clean and beautiful…But that requires us taking action and saying something when we see (illegal dumping),” Fenstermacher said.
To raise awareness of the problem, the new public service campaign will utilize radio, video, digital and outdoor media to get the word out. To demonstrate how big the problem is, EPWater puts the 140,000 pounds of trash in context by pointing out it is equal to the weight of a herd of elephants.
At the kick-off, an elephant sculpture made out of illegally dumped trash was on hand, designed by local artist Jason Brewer. The sound and visuals of elephants are threaded throughout the public service campaign.
El Paso residents are urged to dispose of any large trash or waste at the approved Citizen Collection Centers throughout the city. The centers are located at:
Technology is making waves at El Paso Water, as the utility modernizes for the future by embracing robotic crawlers and emerging and ‘trenchless technologies’ that are changing the way crews manage El Paso’s aging infrastructure.
EPWater officials say their push for modernization comes, in part, from “strategic directions prioritized in our 10-year Strategic Plan.”
“We are committed to improving El Paso’s water and stormwater infrastructure, and modernizing equipment and technologies that contribute to increased efficiencies and productivity.”
Stormwater operations employees rave about the new MiniDozer, which can carry a half-ton of debris and do the work of a six-person crew to clear waterways. The MiniDozer also makes it safer for Stormwater employees who work year-round to keep systems free of debris.
Now a crew of three workers, with one operating the MiniDozer via a remote control that resembles a video game control with joysticks, does the work of a crew of six workers with wheelbarrows and shovels.
Another innovative tool is the ‘G3 crawler,’ which uses electromagnetism to detect potential breaks in EPWater’s major water mains. The tethered robot crawls along the bottom of a water line, recording video for inspection of the pipe’s interior.
With the G3 Crawler, speed and cost savings are paramount.
“The cost-effective technology allows our crew members to get to the root of problems quickly and avoid service disruptions. The remote-controlled robot can pinpoint problem areas, helping crews to avoid costly replacement of entire pipes,” officials stated.
EPWater employees also consider trenchless technologies another low-impact and money-saving option to repair our stressed infrastructure. In recent projects, the utility has employed pipe bursting and Insituform.
• In pipe bursting, specialized equipment pulls a bullet-shaped metal cone through the old pipe, bursting it along the way. The new pipe is fed through the space, and the shards of the old pipe are safely left buried. The process only requires digging up a small area on either end of the pipe, substantially decreasing road closures. The process is twice as fast as the traditional cutting method and offers a 30 percent cost savings.
• Insituform uses cured-in-place pipe technology – a pipe within a pipe – with little to no digging. This more environmentally friendly technology has renewed pipelines beneath interstates and busy roadways without disrupting traffic. This technology was recently used to replace a collapsed stormwater pipe on Belvidere Street in west El Paso.
“EPWater’s technological toolbox will continue to grow as we explore innovative techniques to best serve customers, manage facilities and fund infrastructure improvements,” officials added.
In May of 2017, El Paso Water started a new program that allows local businesses to become a Certified Water Partner and showcase El Paso Water’s recognition of their water conservation efforts.
“It’s a constant reinforcement of water conservation,” said Norma Guzman, a certified water specialist for El Paso Water. “It shows a partnership, that we’re all in it together. It’s important to go beyond just conserving water at home.”
These businesses have met best practice criteria such as installing water efficient kitchen equipment, faucets, and toilets, while protecting wastewater systems with responsible fats and grease disposal.
Tabla is one of the newest businesses to be certified, and Sous Chef Jason Lucero is thrilled at the progress they’ve made in the kitchen.
“We’re always able to turn on a faucet without knowing exactly how much water we’re using, and being more conscious of it has helped how much we waste,” said Lucero.
EP Water officials add that for a business to become a Certified Water Partner, they must be local, have their own meter, utilize best practices for water efficiency and have a responsible fats and grease disposal system.
With 25 partners since the start of the program, Guzman said she’s happy with the positive impact the program is having on the community. In addition to recognizing restaurants that have good practices in conservation, El Paso Water also advises restaurants that don’t meet criteria how they can do even more to save water by helping them develop a plan of action to qualify for certification.
“We’ll come back at no charge and at their convenience. We clearly tell them where they missed the mark, what they need to do. We’re happy to go back to see progress and whether they have done what it takes to be certified, because we want them to save water,” said Guzman.
She stresses that all the information gathered during inspection for certification is kept confidential and at no time involves enforcement or penalties of any kind. Participation is strictly voluntary.
Photos of all Certified Water Partners are posted and tagged on El Paso Water Facebook and Twitter pages at least a few times a year. A short video also features some of the Partners. The publicity aims to publicly recognize these restaurants for their efforts, with hopes that other will follow.
More information on the program can be found online by selecting the conservation tab, and then clicking on the Certified Water Partner logo.
Starting Wednesday, El Paso Water will close Alabama Street, from Wheeling Avenue to Richmond Avenue, to all traffic for several weeks to complete the next phase of the Kentucky Dam stormwater improvement project.
During the closure, crews will replace the water mains in the closed off area and install new stormwater lines, improving services and flood safety for the area.
Drivers for both directions of traffic will be able to detour around the construction by driving over to Piedras Street and then back onto Alabama via Wheeling or Richmond.
The $3.9 million project will help reduce flooding in Central El Paso. The project will increase the capacity of nearby ponds and add piping that keeps water off the streets by directing stormwater into the dam.
Additionally, the project will improve service in the area by replacing water and wastewater lines.