EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — El Paso Water was facing a potential fine of approximately two million dollars after the utility reportedly discharged 1.25 billion gallons of wastewater into the Rio Grande between August 2021 and January 2022 after major pipelines in West El Paso experienced multiple breaks, according to El Paso Water.
However, the utility came into an agreement with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) after El Paso Water spent an estimated seven million dollars cleaning up the Rio Grande.
“EPWater fully cooperated with TCEQ from the onset of the wastewater emergency discharge and expended upwards of an estimated $7 million as part of the cleanup. The penalty offset means that the utility will not have to divert ratepayer funds from approved budget expenditures for the penalty.” the utility said.
A spokesperson for El Paso Water confirmed that the $7 million to clean up the wastewater spillage came from El Paso Water rates. However, they say customers didn’t see an increase on their bills related to the wastewater spill and cleanup and that there won’t be.
As KTSM has previously reported, in August of 2021, major parallel wastewater pipelines in West El Paso, also known as the Frontera Force Mains, experienced multiple breaks which resulted in El Paso Water redirecting wastewater into the Rio Grande for the next five months.
El Paso Water says it was in the process of a two-year project to replace the pipelines after a condition assessment revealed significant corrosion. The utility says the project began in March of 2020 and was 60 percent complete when the major breaks happened.
“El Paso water made the decision to discharge into the river. It was in the name of protection of public health and safety. So at that point it was the environment who was impacted. The good news is that the river has been cleaned up, any storm water ponds that were used to contain the wastewater have been cleaned up,” said Gilbert Trejo the Vice President of Operations and Technical Services at El Paso Water.
The new line became operational in December 2021, and discharge to the river stopped in early January 2022, according to the utility.
“Although there was the initial pipeline project that was completed back in 2021, efforts to to replace the remainder of the pipelines continue. Earlier this year, a phase two of the pipeline projects was completed. And just this month we have begun phase three of the completion of the of the force mains as well,” said Trejo.