Water planning looks 50 years into the future

Water planning looks 50 years into the future
Posted on 02/16/2021
Water planning looks 50 years into the future

The planning process never stops for El Paso Water to secure a reliable water supply for future generations. The utility plays a leadership role in shaping the Far West Texas Water Plan, a 50-year regional water resources management plan that must be updated every five years, as required by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB).

“The water plan is not something you just put on a shelf and never read it again,” said Scott Reinert, Water Resources Manager. “It goes through a rigorous state approval process.”

Even before the Texas legislature passed a bill in 1997 to establish a water planning process so all counties of the state could be better prepared for drought and water supply challenges, El Paso Water was steps ahead with its own 50-year plan.

The Far West Texas region is among sixteen regions across the state that recently completed 2021 water plans that project population and water resources needs through 2071.

Reinert spent the last year compiling data, doing research and updating the utility’s water resources plan. He then worked with other regional planners to integrate various plans for the Far West Texas plan, which then was submitted to become part of the Texas state water plan.

“Lawmakers have information on the water projects planned across the state, and it helps them understand the resource needs and the huge financial responsibility of providing water for the future,” Reinert said.

Water Plan priorities

 To prioritize projects in the water plan, EPWater considers three main factors: supply, demand, and strategy. “El Paso is growing, and we must plan to meet future demand,” Reinert said.

As El Paso experiences longer periods of drought, the utility must turn to innovative and drought-proof strategies. “We can’t just rely on strategies from decades ago.”

This year’s updated water plan consists of some major projects: Advanced Water Purification, expanded Hueco Bolson aquifer recharge, and in the long-term, water importation from Dell City.

The Advanced Water Purification Facility will take treated wastewater and pass it through several phases of membrane filtration and disinfection. This multiple-stage treatment process transforms the treated wastewater into a safe, reliable drinking water supply.

The facility will produce up to 10 million gallons of water per day, giving our community an additional source of water.

Recharging our aquifer

 Just as we recharge our smart phones every day, underground water sources will be recharged, preserving groundwater levels for long-term sustainability. The Aquifer Storage and Recharge Project will take treated Rio Grande water during plentiful years and combine it with reclaimed water and then “bank” the water in the aquifer so it will be available for withdrawal when the Rio Grande is in short supply.

To facilitate recharge of the aquifer, EPWater will construct an Enhanced Arroyo project, which will use an existing arroyo in Northeast El Paso that will be widened and excavated.

“We are now designing the enhanced arroyo that will also benefit the community,” said Reinert. EPWater’s plans call for constructing walking trails and adding native landscaping along the arroyo so it also can serve as an outdoor amenity.

In January, the Texas Military Preparedness Commission awarded the project $4.5 million that will fund more than 30% of the first phase. In awarding the funding the Commission considered the importance of the project to Fort Bliss, which has a private water system but also relies on the Hueco Bolson for its water supply.

Water importation

 The 2021 water plan estimates that El Paso County’s population will be approximately 1.4 million residents by the year 2070. To meet demands, EPWater is securing water resources that will be imported from Dell City, located 90 miles east of El Paso.

“The utility has purchased land and water rights,” said Reinert. “The project will consist of a pipeline that will be able to transport Dell City groundwater to El Paso during certain peak water use times.”

The project also includes pipelines, pump stations and a water treatment plant. EPWater will manage the local aquifer so it will continue to supply water needed by Dell City while becoming an additional future resource for El Paso.

The water plan anticipates importation to begin around 2050, but conservation, water reuse and expanded desalination may push that date even further back.

Conservation is included in the water plan because it is important for residential and commercial customers to continue to be water efficient and play a role in preserving this valuable resource.

“We’ve got smart people thinking about our water resources,” said Reinert. “We are always planning; we are always preparing for the future.”

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