EP Water cleans sewage in Rio Grande ahead of irrigation season

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – The messy, muddy and smelly aftermath of nearly five months of sewage spillage into the Rio Grande has El Paso Water and several partners rushing to clean up ahead of the upcoming irrigation season.

El Paso Water, along with the El Paso County Water Improvement District and several hired contractors started cleanup efforts late January through early February.

Gilbert Trejo, the Interim Chief Technical Officer with El Paso Water, told KTSM crews removed everything that was discharged by the wastewater into the river.

“Now with the river cleaned up, crews are going to be making their way downstream to continue to clean the river until there’s nothing else to clean,” Trejo said.

As KTSM previously reported, two wastewater pipes in El Paso’s Westside burst in August after severe storms. In December, El Paso Water made the final repairs to the Frontera wastewater line and by January, the John T. Hickerson Water Reclamation Facility was back up and running. This allowed for El Paso Water to stop diverting wastewater into the Rio Grande.

The El Paso County Water Improvement District is assisting El Paso Water in cleanup efforts.

“They operate the irrigation canal system here in El Paso. They are cleaning up the river site canal down in the Lower Valley,” Trejo said. “They are eager to start using and delivering water again to their customers so they’ll be cleaning up their side canal.”

El Paso Water is also working with an engineering consulting firm environmental experts called Arcadis. The International Boundary Water Commission gave the utility the green light to divert the water in August and it now gave clearance for the remediation efforts.

Trejo said crews cleaned out solids that were discharged into the river from the wastewater, along with the “sludge” which is a mix of muddy liquid and solid components.

“The biggest thing that we’ve we’ve encountered are wipes,” Trejo said. “Wipes, rags, are things that are very common to a wastewater collection system, they cause havoc with our pumps at our pumping stations. So while they weren’t causing havoc in our pumps, they were being discharged in the river throughout this time.

Aside from the wipes, the majority of what was going into the river was residential wastewater. Trejo said, fortunately, most of it is biodegradable.

“So all this material is biodegradable, it will it is organic-based, will be disinfected, even just naturally by the sun. It’s just a natural process,” Trejo said.

El Paso Water updated the Public Service Board early February on its remediation process.

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