This week, officials with El Paso Water presented a $10,000 check to the University of Texas at El Paso and announced a new student research program established in honor of former utility President and CEO Ed Archuleta, who served for 24 years in that role and is recognized nationally for bold initiatives to build a sustainable water supply for El Paso.
“Ed Archuleta developed a culture of working with UTEP on innovative research to find solutions that benefit the utility and ultimately benefit our customers,” said EPWater current President and CEO John Balliew.
“We’ve engaged UTEP researchers on many projects that have resulted in savings of millions of dollars. This new research program that honors Ed – and the research culture he created – entails a $50,000 commitment over 5 years to work with UTEP’s engineering department on projects that will benefit EPWater and the broader water utility sector.”
UTEP Civil Engineering Associate Professor Dr. Shane Walker is serving as the faculty sponsor of the program and put the program in place over the last year.
“Thanks to the visionary leadership of Ed Archuleta and John Balliew, EPWater has been a leader for decades in water conservation, wastewater reuse, and brackish desalination,” said Walker. “EPWater’s partnership is essential for our UTEP Center for Inland Desalination Systems research team to continue advancing water treatment technologies, especially by pilot testing at EPWater’s state-of-the-art facilities.”
Through a competitive process, Marcela Herrera, a graduate student in UTEP’s Environmental Engineering program, was selected as the inaugural student in the research program. Herrera graduated from Father Yermo High School in El Paso and received her undergraduate degree in geological sciences from UTEP.
Herrera’s research project is tied into a multi-year pilot project set up in two trailers converted into laboratories at EPWater’s John T. Hickerson Water Reclamation Facility. The pilot received $400,000 from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for the study of multiple aspects of desalination and direct potable reuse, which involves converting treated wastewater to drinking water.
The lessons learned can potentially be applied to EPWater’s own Advanced Water Purification Facility that is currently in design and scheduled to begin construction in 2025.
The goal of Herrera’s research has focused on high-recovery zero-liquid-discharge in direct potable reuse. Her objective is to recover as much potable water as possible through the purification process, resulting in a solid waste product that is easier to dispose of. She says the project will help utilities nationwide overcome some of the obstacles associated with the implementation of direct potable reuse projects.
“This research is really important since it can be a game changer for smaller communities that don’t have the resources and don’t have the land to dispose of the concentrate,” said Herrera. “This will help with energy costs and the overall cost of the treatment plant.”
“No one is doing this kind of research at all in this county,” said Archuleta. “This is the first of its kind.”
Archuleta said he is honored to have the program in his name, but he is more enthusiastic about the funding that UTEP is receiving for the research program. “What’s important is the students get research funding, and the university gets the benefit of the research and so does El Paso Water.”
“For that matter, the rest of the country and the rest of the world will share in the benefits of this cutting edge research,” said Archuleta.