EPWU looking to diversify water sources with $82 million purification plant

(PHOTO: Julia Deng)

POSTED: Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - 6:31pm

UPDATED: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - 12:20pm

El Paso Water Utilities has been treating wastewater and reusing it for irrigation, industrial and construction purposes since 1963. They now have plans to put this reclaimed water through an additional four-step filtration process in order to purify it to use as drinking water.

"We need El Pasoans to understand that, in the future, the [risk] of having no water in the river is a definite possibility," said Christina Montoya, an EPWU Vice President.

"This [reclaimed wastewater] is a drought-proof supply. We know this source is always going to be there, even if the drought continues."

Much of El Paso is currently powered and hydrated by water from the Rio Grande, but the supply of river water has decreased as drought conditions worsen throughout the region. El Paso usually receives a six-month supply of water from the river; this year, there was only enough to last two months.

Montoya said it is now imperative for EPWU to look beyond river water and "diversify the region's water sources."

The proposed water purification facility will take wastewater that is already "highly treated" and currently used for irrigation and industrial purposes; re-purify it with a four-step process that includes filtration, ultraviolet radiation and disinfection; and then combine it with the existing supply of drinking water.

"The biggest misunderstanding out there is that we're proposing a 'toilet-to-tap' system," said Montoya.

"That's not the case at all, and we don't want misconceptions like that to get in the way of moving ahead with our plan. The water we're starting with is already highly treated, and clean and clear enough to be mistaken for drinking water."

However, this purification technology isn't cheap; according to EPWU, the new water plant planned for East El Paso will cost about $82 million. The portion not covered by federal loans and grants - which EPWU is "actively seeking out" - will fall upon ratepayers.

EPWU has no estimate of how much rates could inflate or when those increases might take effect.

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