Engineer honoree Trejo groomed for career in water

Engineer honoree Trejo groomed for career in water
Posted on 02/15/2022
Gilbert Trejo, El Paso Water’s Interim Chief Operations Officer for Production and Treatment, overlooks the Rio Grande outfall where treated wastewater from the John T. Hickerson Water Reclamation Facility is released into the river.

El Paso’s Engineer of the Year Gilbert Trejo of El Paso Water has been learning about the water sector since he was 18 and cleaning canals in El Paso’s Lower Valley.

Fresh out of Ysleta High School, Trejo took a job cleaning canals for the El Paso County Water Improvement District during the summer heat. Growing up in the shadow of the Rio Grande in the Lower Valley, he had already gained an appreciation of the neighboring Ysleta del Sur Pueblo’s intimacy with the river and how the area’s farmers use the canals for irrigation.

“I am very fortunate that as an El Pasoan, I understand the river valley,” he said. “The Rio Grande is not a border to me; I grew up all along it.”

Getting an education

After earning his bachelor’s in engineering at the University of Texas at El Paso, Trejo moved to focus on his master’s at the University of Texas at Austin. While there, he worked for the United States Geological Survey as an entry level civil engineer conducting ecological surveys.

At the USGS, Trejo’s introduction to engineering was running water quality measurements on the state’s diverse waterways, and he eventually wrote his master’s thesis on stormwater modeling on unit hydrographs.

After 6 years with Arcadis in the Dallas office, Trejo had the opportunity to return to El Paso and become the principal in charge of Arcadis’ water division in the El Paso region. A thriving career at EPWater would soon follow, where he served as Chief Technical Officer and was recently promoted to Interim Chief Operations Officer for Production and Treatment.

Trejo has gained a national profile as one of the nation’s renowned water reuse experts and advocates. He is past chair and current board member for the WateReuse Association and serves on the board with the Water Research Foundation. 

“It’s all about building relationships and maintaining them,” Trejo said. “I was given a lot of opportunities from a lot of people in El Paso and outside of El Paso. I have taken full advantage and just worked hard.”

On being named Engineer of the Year, Trejo said the recognition allows him the opportunity to shine a light on EPWater’s dedicated team who works hard daily to provide clean and safe drinking water and top-notch water services. He also credits his parents for instilling a strong work ethic.

“I am happiest for my parents because they get to experience this with me,” he said. “Work hard, be respectful, try your best – super simple. It really is that easy.”

Life lessons

Trejo, shown at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant, has gained a national profile as one of the nation’s renowned water reuse experts and advocates. It’s an ethic that has served him well at EPWater, especially during times of crisis, such as the recent Frontera wastewater emergency.

“Mr. Ed Archuleta did a fantastic job leading this utility in the past, planning ahead for future water sources,” Trejo said. But current President and CEO John Balliew, who advanced long-term water supply further and brought new focus to the people and culture at EPWater, is who Trejo counts as a mentor for his strong and even-keeled leadership during the Frontera emergency.

“Now, we are entering this new water utility era – maintenance, repair and replacement. The rehabilitation of our system needs to be No. 1,” Trejo said.

Trejo realized that his all-encompassing knowledge of water – from cleaning canals as a youth to his early career with the USGS – prepared him very well to handle issues like the Frontera emergency.

“I was very comfortable with what was going on because of the experience I had with the USGS – understanding water quality, natural streams and how the environment protects itself,” he said. “When Frontera happened, it was very intimate to me. I understood everyone’s perspectives – economic growth and impact, City Council concerns. I’m an El Pasoan and glad that I could be of assistance.”  

Aside from countless industry achievements, which include making significant headway with EPWater’s future Advanced Water Purification Facility, Trejo said he is most proud of the little girls he has coached from age 6 to 16. High-school graduation and college will soon break up the softball team, which includes his daughter.

Trejo names former Ysleta High School football Coach Craig Richey as the influence that drove him to coach a team.

“I am not a big guy and was going to quit the football team until Coach said, ‘Just come out and try hard; there’s always going to be a place for you,’” said Trejo, who ended up playing on the varsity team as a starting linebacker. “He taught me how to believe in people, and I wanted to show that to other kids. It’s a life lesson I took with me and carry out to this day.”

Find this story and more in the Engineers Week Supplement.

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