Frontera Wastewater Emergency

Main break at Doniphan CircleOn Sept. 6, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved an Agreed Order with El Paso Water on an administrative penalty as part of the enforcement action of the Frontera Wastewater Emergency. The sudden, unexpected and catastrophic events forced the utility to discharge 1.2 billion gallons of wastewater into the Rio Grande between August 2021 and January 2022. 

The Agreed Order incorporates a provision specifying an administrative penalty amount of $2,016,000 assessed by TCEQ that will be offset by EPWater’s successful performance of a Supplemental Environmental Project. The project was performed as part of the settlement of an enforcement action brought by TCEQ.

Untreated wastewater discharge halted
: On January 11, the John T. Hickerson Water Reclamation Facility ramped up operations to take the full inflow of wastewater from El Paso’s westside. This allows El Paso Water to halt the discharge of raw wastewater into the river, paving the way for environmental remediation efforts. The utility remains in a commissioning and testing phase to ensure the new replacement pipeline and the facility are operating as they should. The Frontera Lift Station, the largest of its kind in west El Paso, also became operational in January and is conveying wastewater flows through the new Frontera Force Main, a 36-inch wide pipeline made of non-corrosive material.

Initial Pipeline Breaks: On Aug. 13, major wastewater pipelines in West El Paso broke in two places. The pipelines, called the Frontera Force Mains, are near Sunland Park and Doniphan drives and carry wastewater from more than 110,000 Westside residents to the John T. Hickerson Water Reclamation Facility. On average, the pipes carry about 10 million gallons of wastewater daily.

Installation Complete: Crews have installed the final pipe and have begun the commissioning phase of the wastewater line and the Hickerson Facility. Previous months provided challenges with continuous wastewater flows, difficult terrain and pipes buried up to 20 feet. Crews faced tremendous challenges and complications during repairs. 

Final tie in at Frontera replaSince August, the Hickerson Facility, which typically takes in the wastewater from the Frontera Force Mains, was partially operational. EPWater has been monitoring the intake of wastewater to ensure the plant will perform well with the full volume of wastewater flows. This process will result in strong odors during the next couple of weeks as wastewater, which has been trapped in lines for months, is moved into the facility. The Hickerson Facility is near Interstate 10 and Executive Center Boulevard.

Homes and Businesses Impacted: The pipe breaks initially caused a backup of wastewater through manholes and some homes in a low-lying Upper Valley neighborhood. EPWater began releasing wastewater into surrounding ponds to avoid further backups and reduce impacts to homes and businesses. Homes and businesses in the area have continued to experience odors and some traffic disruptions because of repairs underway. EPWater is disinfecting and deodorizing ponds and other areas impacted by wastewater to reduce odors.

Environmental Impacts: Additional breaks forced EPWater to make the difficult decision to divert wastewater to the Rio Grande in late August. EPWater reported the initial wastewater emergency to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and has maintained regular contact with the agency throughout the process. The utility will continue to work with TCEQ as well as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

EPWater has hired outside consultants to conduct investigations into the cause of the wastewater line breaks and to asses impacts to the Rio Grande, as well as recommend environmental mitigation strategies.

Broken wastewater line.Health and Safety Caution: Wastewater discharge to the Rio Grande has halted and the Hickerson Facility has ramped up operations to take the full inflow of wastewater from El Paso's westside. This will pave the way for environmental remediation efforts. The public is advised to avoid contact with the river water. The public drinking water supply was not impacted.

New Pipeline Replacement Accelerated: As repairs and cleanup efforts continued, an emergency pipeline replacement was accelerated. In March 2020, EPWater began a two-year replacement project of the Frontera Force Main after a condition assessment revealed significant corrosion. The new wastewater main is made of fiberglass, a corrosion-resistant material. What was supposed to be a March 2022 completion is now finished and in the commissioning phase.

Replacement of 1.2 Miles of 36" Force Main
Frontera Line Map

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