Prepared for the drought, El Paso leads the way in reclaimed water
By Leslie Lee
For El Paso, the answer was not only aggressively conserving water, but also reclaiming wastewater. The thought of recycling treated wastewater may sound unglamorous, but as Texas is sinking further into a disastrous drought, El Paso Water Utilities (EPWU) is receiving an abundance of positive attention for its reclaimed water program.
“For many years people have come from all over to learn about what we do,” said Irazema Rojas, utility engineer for EPWU. “We have received calls and visits from Australia, Mexico, Atlanta, Austin.”
EPWU serves about 200,000 residential and commercial customers and also operates one of the most extensive reclaimed water systems in Texas.
“Located in a desert, EPWU made a decision many years ago to think of reclaimed water as a valuable resource rather than a byproduct that needs to be disposed of,” the EPWU website states.
EPWU maintains four wastewater reclamation plants, and each plant yields treated effluent suitable for customers to apply to parks, sport fields, landscape nurseries, golf courses, construction projects and many other situations. Some of the treated wastewater is used for industrial processes, and EPWU designates some of it for aquifer recharge. All of the plants meet Texas Commission on Environmental Quality regulations, Rojas said.
“This program started back in the 1960s, when the city began using treated effluent to irrigate the golf course,” Rojas said. “And slowly the program became more aggressive, eventually using treated effluent for industrial and construction uses, in addition to irrigation.”
The program has grown over the years, and now 44 percent of the EPWU reclaimed water is used for irrigation, 37 percent for industrial processes, 19 percent for aquifer recharge, and small percentages for construction use.
The Texas AgriLife Research Center in El Paso has also actively worked in close partnership with EPWU on its reclaimed water program. Through continued research, the center has produced several reports on effective uses of reclaimed water and landscape management.
According to EPWU, since its water conservation ordinance was established in 1991, conservation and reclaimed water programs have saved 231 billion gallons of water, which is enough water to fill the Sun Bowl 6,392 times.
”We are very proud of our system,” Rojas said. “Not only is using reclaimed water advantageous to businesses because it is cheaper than potable water, but it is also important because it increases a city’s ability to conserve water and therefore prolongs the life of the water resources.”