Photo courtesy EP Water
Last week, the WateReuse Association convened in Washington D.C. for a Water Week 2019 Congressional Briefing to highlight how utilities across the country are using water recycling in a variety of ways to benefit their respective communities.
El Paso Water’s Chief Technical Officer Gilbert Trejo was among the main panel presenters, who spoke about the utility’s Advanced Water Purification Facility, piloted in 2016.
With preliminary designs now complete, the utility is one step closer to making the facility a reality.
“I think it’s very exciting for El Pasoans to know that what we’re doing here in El Paso is going to change the water industry,” Trejo said. “The water community knows and understands that these treatment processes treat the water and produce a very high-quality water. It’s a matter of which community is going to be the first one to have absolute trust in their water utility and in the water to drink it. And that’s what we’re about to do here in El Paso.”
Treated wastewater, that already meets safe environmental standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), will go through the advanced water purification process to produce a safe, reliable and drought-proof drinking water.
“When our customers learn that millions of gallons of crystal-clean water are being discharged back into the canal or back into the river, the first thing they ask us is, ‘Why aren’t we reusing it?’” Trejo said.
In 2016, EPWater piloted the advanced water purification process. Thousands of water samples were analyzed and reviewed by state regulators. The results demonstrated that safe, high quality drinking water can be produced through the process.
“Water studies and epidemiological studies have shown through history that a multi-barrier approach to water treatment is the best defense in preventing or reducing water-borne disease in communities,” said Dr. Kristina Mena. “And that’s exactly what the Advanced Water Purification Facility does.”
Mena served on an expert advisory panel convened by the National Water Research Institute to review EPWater’s Advanced Water Purification Pilot Facility and is also serving on a similar panel for the State of Colorado. She is confident in EPWater’s approach to advanced water purification. The panel agrees and wrote a strong letter of support to TCEQ for the project.
To help the community understand the need for the Advanced Water Purification Facility, EPWater crafted a multi-faceted, bilingual outreach program that began in 2013 and continues today. The program utilizes social media, media relations and education efforts to help the community understand the quality of water produced and how important this facility is to keep water flowing if river water supplies are limited.
One of the many activities in the outreach program was tours of the pilot facility.
According to EP Water officials, over 300 people have visited the pilot facility and all filled out pre and post tour surveys.
“Prior to the tour, 84% of the people were in favor of this type of project in El Paso. After the tour, 96% of the visitors said they were supportive of the project,” officials said.
Designs for the Advanced Water Purification Facility are expected to be complete in the next 1-2 years. Construction should begin soon after, and the plant is expected to go on-line by 2024.
EPWater is actively pursuing state and federal funding opportunities to lessen the financial impact of the new facility on ratepayers.
“I think we have a utility that is very advanced and very progressive when it comes to treatment of water,” Trejo said. “But most important, service to our customers is No. 1. This project is at the forefront of our mission to provide our customers the highest quality of water for them to drink.”