One of its main sources of water is Rio Grande. The river can typically deliver as much as half of…
One of its main sources of water is Rio Grande. The river can typically deliver as much as half of the city’s water requirements. But climate change makes it all the more difficult and drives the city to look for new water sources. Now El Paso is about to become the first big city in the United States to treat its wastewater and send it back straight to their cranes.
Increasing temperatures will make the already dry area even more vulnerable to drought, according to the federal government’s latest national climate assessment. El Paso has already challenged to balance the demands of about 700,000 thirsty El Pasoans, together with the needs of agricultural and industrial industries, while climate change literally wipes one of its major water sources.
“We get less run-off now than we would have received as late as the 80’s or 90’s,” said J. Phillip King, MSc professor at the University of New Mexico. King has tracked the river’s water level for the past 27 years as an advisor to the Elephant Butte Irrigation District. The district handles water distribution of approximately 90,000 hectares of farmland along the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico and Texas.
958, the amount of snow blend at the beginning of April has decreased in Rio Grande by 25% due to less snowfall and evaporation.
What’s happening in Rio Grande is not unique. It is a phenomenon that occurs throughout the Western United States.
The king called Rio Grande as a harbinger of what will come. “You know we’ve already been critically low here, and you can think of Colorado like a few years away from a similar fate,” he said.
Drought is not something new to the 1800-mile river. Rio Grande has survived severe and long-lasting droughts earlier, King said. But an increase in temperature drives both a warmer and dryer. And it not only means potentially less snowfall, but also a greater chance of water evaporating.
The federal government is projecting temperatures to rise further 8 degrees Fahrenheit in the region in 2100.
The staggering reserves are evident at the Elephant Butte Reservoir, just beyond the Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. The reservoir is located immediately on the Rio Grande and is the largest recreational lake in the state. It holds water for farmers from north of El Paso up to Colorado. It has a capacity of about 2 million hectares feet, said King. Currently it turns around 3% to 4% of its full capacity. Buildings that were built as offices during the dam construction in the early 20th century were dampened earlier in the 1980s. Now they serve as outlets for an almost empty pool.
For those who depend on the river, like El Paso, they must look for alternative water sources as needed.
Something El Paso is used to. When Ed Acrhuleta first took the help of El Paso Water utility in 1989, he knew that drying was a problem. To make a long-term plan, he needed a long-term view. An assessment of the Texas Water Development Board decided that the city could drain out of water by 2020 if they continued to rely on pumping groundwater out of their aquifers.
“I thought we had to transform this mining. We need to stabilize the aquatic material and we must diversify our resources,” he told CNN’s Gupta.
Expand their water portfolio where Archuletta’s mission was. Instead of relying only on pumped groundwater, the Archuleta El Paso water portfolio expanded.
Farmers in the Western United States usually organized a system of rights or allocations for using water of the river, including the Rio Grande. The rights were linked to property, so the El Paso tool began hiring water rights from farmers. The tool also bought farmland that had these rights.
David Gutzler, a climate professor at the University of New Mexico, resembled an expanded water portfolio to a financial. “If you can mix and match, use one or the other,” said Gutzler. And that’s the flexibility that ultimately makes the cities more robust, he said.
But in a move that was more visionary than just looking for water, Archuleta made water.
He lobbied the federal government for funds to create the world’s largest domestic desalination plant. Kay Bailey Hutchinson Desalination Plant is named after the Texas senator who assisted the Archuleta lobby in DC for the facility.
According to the El Paso Water Hydrologists, under the 10 million hectares of fresh water in the Hueco Bolson waterway, they depend on the fact that there are another 30 million hectares of broken water that can be treated and used as drinking water.
It is estimated that the whole state of Texas has nearly 3 billion acres of saltwater meters to use. It is more than 20,000 times the amount of water that El Paso used this year.
Today, Kay Bailey Hutchinson Plant can produce up to 27 million liters of water daily. The plant dares its production up and down based on how much water is available in the river and there are aquifers. Next year El Paso expects desalination to yield 7% to 9% of its water.
“This plant was built for growth. It was built for drought protection. In principle, it provides El Paso with a drought insurance,” said Archuleta.
He also preached a gospel of conservation. He set up community outreach programs with a mascot called Willie the Water Drop and created a museum for water for area children to visit and learn where their water came from.
The city paid residents to turn their lawn into rockscapes. The local El Paso paper published the names of high-water users.
When Archuleta retired in 2013, water consumption decreased by about 35% per person. El Paso uses less total water now than it did 24 years ago, even though 170,000 more would earn.
Today, El Paso is ready to take the next step in expanding its water portfolio. They build a closed system that processes sewage and puts it directly in drinking water. Among water specialists is called “direct potable reuse” or “advanced purification”.
“It’s the logical next step for us to take,” says Gilbert Trejo, Technical Manager of El Paso Water.
Currently, El Paso, Orange County, California, Scottsdale, Arizona and several other tools around the country treat sewage and then pump it back into the aquarium to finally drink. Trejo says that it can take about 5 years for the water to filter through the ground before pumping it back and being treated according to the standards for clean drinking water.
This treated water is also often used for irrigation and industrial purposes.
El Paso is currently building a completely closed loop plant, where instead of pumping back to the aquarium, treated wastewater will undergo further filtration and sent back to drinking water pipelines.
“We see this water clear and it is of good quality,” explained Trejo to Gupta. “The next thing we have to do is to take a high quality water that we produce at a state-of-the-art plant and treat it a little more with several treatment processes so we can drink it.”
According to EPA, the amount of wastewater produced in large cities can make up 50% to 60% of the total water delivered, which provides a great resource for cities like El Paso that shed water.
To ensure that the water is pure of all pathogens or microbes, wastewater is sent through several stages of filtration, including UV and carbon filtration. Studies have found that treated water is actually less likely to have pollutants than untreated river or sea water.
Past efforts from other municipalities in Texas and California to use “direct recycling of potatoes” have not always disappeared due to the “ickiness” factor. Community purchases are the key to getting these projects up, “says Justin Mattingly of the Water Research Foundation. “These are public authorities. They belong to the public. So you can equally benefit the public as well.”
Archueltas heritage of water protection and education has founded El Paso at the moment.
“Everyone sees us in the desert that we are in a dry climate. Rain is hardly … so when we tell our customers that we do everything possible and use all the water resources around us to treat and do It’s safe for consumption, they’re doing quite well. “
El Paso Water expects 2030 that desalination will produce 10% of their water supply and 6% comes from advanced purification.
Trejo told Gupta that it is not only the future of El Paso, it is the future of many other cities as well who are facing the need to look for water.
“The technology allows us to treat [water] to a very high standard and makes it very safe to drink. Water is really around us in every city.”