River cleanup underway after wastewater emergency

River cleanup underway after wastewater emergency
Posted on 02/11/2022
Cleanup taking place in the Rio Grande.

EPWater is implementing a multipronged river clean-up strategy with several partners to make sure that the Rio Grande and canals are ready for the new irrigation season. River water is expected to arrive in El Paso in June following a late May release from Elephant Butte Dam and Reservoir.

El Paso Water is several weeks into the task of cleaning the riverbed and other areas impacted by the unprecedented wastewater emergency.

“We want to see the riverbed as it was before we made the difficult decision to discharge raw wastewater, and we are already seeing a difference,” said Gilbert Trejo, Interim Chief Operations Officer.

EPWater’s discharge of wastewater into the Rio Grande was halted in January after the damaged Frontera Force Mains were replaced. Millions of gallons of wastewater are once again flowing to the John T. Hickerson Water Reclamation Facility, which treats and reclaims some of the wastewater for parks and golf course irrigation. Some of the cleaned water is also released to the river. 

In mid-August, the Frontera Force Mains, which collect an average of 10 million gallons a day of wastewater from west El Paso customers, experienced multiple breaks in a concentrated area near Sunland Park Drive and Doniphan Drive.

Continued Collaboration

Cleanup of the Rio GrandeThe International Boundary Water Commission (IBWC) authorized EPWater crews to remove sediment from the riverbed, with particular focus on impacted areas, where a buildup of solids was observed.

The El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1 is cleaning cement-lined canals where the wastewater was diverted to other EPWater wastewater plants to minimize impact to the river.

A local environmental firm cleaned stormwater ponds that were used to temporarily hold wastewater in the early stages of the wastewater emergency.

“The work is moving along, and we are appreciative of the cooperation and assistance from our partners,” Trejo said.

Commitment to the Rio Grande

EPWater has contracted with an environmental engineering firm to complete an environmental assessment, which has involved sampling for water quality and looking at vegetation, aquatic life and waterfowl. The firm is also advising EPWater on environmental remediation strategies.

A preliminary assessment has been completed. When finalized, it will be shared with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency.   

“The utility is committed to ensuring the Rio Grande and neighboring canals are prepared to welcome river water at the start of irrigation season,” said Trejo. “We are approaching river water season, and our crews and partners are working diligently on an expedited timeline.”

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