Wastewater main breaks force discharge into river

Wastewater main breaks force discharge into river
Posted on 09/14/2021

El Paso Water maintains more than 2,300 miles of wastewater pipes citywide that carry used water from toilets, showers and sinks to treatment plants. When a major part of that system ruptured in West El Paso, the utility faced some critical decisions to protect public safety and health. The Frontera Force Main pipelines, located near Sunland Park Drive and Doniphan, are up to 3 feet in diameter and carry wastewater from more than 110,000 Westside residents to the Hickerson Water Reclamation Facility. On average, the lines carry about 10 million gallons of wastewater every day.

 In mid-August, the two parallel mains broke in several places. With continuous wastewater flows and pipes buried up to 20 feet deep, crews faced tremendous challenges and complications during repairs. The pipe breaks initially caused a backup of wastewater that came up through manholes and even emerged in some homes in a low-lying Upper Valley neighborhood. The utility made the difficult decision to divert wastewater to the Rio Grande.

 “Discharging wastewater into the Rio Grande is not a decision we made lightly,” said EPWater Chief Technical Officer Gilbert Trejo. “We needed to keep wastewater off the streets and away from the public, without impacting services.”

Environmental impacts and safety precautions

Wastewater line being repairedThe wastewater release into the river is occurring at the riverbed near Paisano Drive and Racetrack Drive. From that point south, EPWater is cautioning the community to avoid all contact with the river.

 The Rio Grande is a source of drinking water for the community in the summer months. However, once wastewater was released into the river, the utility stopped taking river water for treatment. EPWater reported the initial wastewater emergency to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and has maintained regular contact with the agency throughout the process.

 “We know there will be adverse impacts to the ecosystem along the Rio Grande,” said Trejo. “We have received guidance from TCEQ to not treat the wastewater being discharged into the river.”

 EPWater has begun disinfecting and deodorizing affected areas near homes and businesses. Utility staff is also communicating with nearby residents and businesses owners to provide updates on repairs and remediation efforts. Discharge into the Rio Grande is expected to continue for a matter of months.

New pipeline replacement accelerated

Wastewater line being repaired.While repairs are made and cleanup efforts continue, a major pipeline replacement has been accelerated. In March 2020, EPWater started a two-year emergency pipeline replacement project of the Frontera Force Main after a condition assessment revealed significant deterioration and corrosion. That project is more than 60% complete.

 The initial wastewater lines, installed in the early 1990’s, were made of steel that had an anti-corrosion coating. At the time, this was considered leading pipeline technology. However, highly corrosive soils did ultimately cause damage to the lines over the years. The new wastewater replacement main are made of fiberglass, a corrosion-resistant material.

 EPWater has directed the contractor to add more crews, work more shifts and accelerate the replacement project. What was supposed to be a March 2022 completion is now estimated to be completed in November 2021.

 “We have to recognize EPWater crews and contractors who have been working around the clock, and at times knee-deep in wastewater, to make repairs and remedy the situation,” said Trejo. “Our crews exemplify service to our community.”

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