Video+Story: Earthquake damage leads to rapid rehab of EPWater reservoir

A restoration of the Sunset Heights Pump Station and Reservoir was already part of El Paso Water’s capital improvement plan. After all, the facility built in the early 1920s is one of El Paso Water’s oldest structures.

But then the earthquake happened.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, a 5.0 magnitude earthquake shook near the town of Mentone, Texas on March 26 at approximately 9:16 a.m. MST.

Even though it was about 175 miles away and three miles below the surface, it was felt by many El Pasoans. And it was felt by one of the two 100-year-old reservoirs.

“The reservoir started leaking,” said Trades Helper Christopher Aguilar, who was one of the many EPWater employees who responded to the scene. “It started leaking at the bottom, at the base of the mountain where the reservoir structure meets the ground.”

After the reservoir was drained and fully cleaned to inspect the damage, it was quickly evident the improvement project would need to be expanded due to extensive damage to the reservoir, much of which was due to age and predated the earthquake.

On May 13, the Public Service Board approved a $7 million emergency rehabilitation project that will include completely lining the structure with a high-strength polymer concrete, reinforcing the structural beams, replacing the yard piping inside the tank as well as some of the inoperable valves.

“The liner that will be used is carbon-reinforced concrete that exceeds 10,000 pounds per square inch (psi),” said Chief Technical Officer Gilbert Trejo. “By comparison, the concrete that is used for building foundations and interstate highways is about 4000-5000 psi. This polymer concrete will allow us to have a stronger structure than if we built a new one.”

Alan Shubert, Vice President for Operations and Technical Services says the project allows EPWater to maintain service to the area while maintaining the historical significance of the site.

“It’s an installation that is completely surrounded by development, so it’s not an option to tear it down and build something new,” he said. “Plus, this is a historic structure in a historic building. The last thing we want to do is destroy part of El Paso’s history.”

Construction is expected to begin this summer. Because the other reservoir is operational, water service in the area will continue with limited interruptions.

Sunset Reservoir | Photo courtesy EP Water