Bursting with the benefits of a winter and spring’s bumper snowpack, El Paso Water is finally welcoming the Rio Grande.
At long last, water released from Caballo Reservoir on May 31 is flowing into EPWater’s two surface water facilities: the Robertson/Umbenhauer Water Treatment Plant and the Jonathan Rogers Water Treatment Plant, said Water Supply Manager Ruben Rodriguez.
EPWater is expecting 16 weeks of river water delivery. A full supply typically lasts 30 weeks while the drought of 2013 yielded a scant delivery of six weeks.
Usually, water would have streamed into El Paso around March, but record low storage levels at Elephant Butte – 3% capacity – late last year forced a water release delay.
“We went into the winter expecting severe drought levels because of the reservoir conditions that we noticed last fall, and then we end up with a historic snowpack – 200% of normal,” said Scott Reinert, Water Resources Manager. “We haven’t had a 200% normal snowpack in 15 years.”
Last summer, the Public Service Board approved a drought resolution for EPWater, which allows for the expedited startup of drought-relief projects. The utility’s well program was expanded to 21 new and existing wells to supplement El Paso’s water supply, while still responsibly pumping to avoid low aquifer levels.
El Paso relies on both river water and groundwater for its municipal water supply. Groundwater supplies are pumped from the Mesilla and Hueco bolsons. River water is supplied from the Rio Grande, which is primarily derived from snowmelt runoff in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.
The flow first makes its way into Elephant Butte and Caballo reservoirs, where U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials then release it each spring for irrigators and other users in Doña Ana County, West Texas and Mexico. A treaty and interstate compact govern the distribution of waters.
This year’s river water supply comes just in time to help EPWater meet its peak demand when water use soars to about 160 million gallons per day.
This period usually occurs in mid-June when temperatures begin to climb. EPWater’s innovative portfolio of water resources, including desalination, water reuse and conservation, help fill gaps to keep faucets flowing.
To maximize El Paso’s supply, EPWater will prioritize water conservation as it has for more than 25 years.
Conservation is a way of life on the borderland, and as a result, the utility has seen total water usage per person decline by 35 percent since 1991.
“Conservation has to be key to sustainability,” said John Balliew, EPWater President and CEO. Balliew added that a tenet of the utility’s water management practices is to be mindful of El Paso’s location in the arid Chihuahuan Desert.
The recent variance of river flows spotlights the unpredictability of river water supply from year to year, Reinert said.
“Even though we may have had a good snow pack this year, it doesn’t last forever,” Reinert said. “The next drought is always around the corner.”