EPA official David Ross talks ‘El Paso’

EPA official David Ross talks ‘El Paso’
Posted on 03/04/2020
David Ross Assistant Administrator of Water for EPA

Moments after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled the National Water Reuse Action Plan at their headquarters in Washington DC, David Ross Assistant Administrator of Water for EPA, sat down with El Paso Water to discuss the plan and discuss how El Paso Water plays an important role in the effort. The Action Plan is a collaborative effort that represents the first initiative of its magnitude to be coordinated across the water sector. Actions taken under this plan will bolster the sustainability, security and resilience of the nation’s water resources.

Q: What did you enjoy most about putting together the action plan?

Ross:. If we’re going to get anything done in the water reuse space, there have to be partnerships and collaboration. To hear that focus throughout the presentation and event, I really enjoyed that.

Q: You talked a little about El Paso Water and mentioned our TecH2O Learning Center. What’s El Paso Water doing that you really like?

Ross: Set aside the technology, and being out front in trying to solve the big-ticket water problems proactively, I was really, really impressed on the education side. There are a lot of people working the technology space. There are a lot of people who can run a really great plant. But that education center, building the next generation of water knowledge, is fairly unique. I had a great tour; they’ve got some really cool features there. Anai Padilla, the manager there, had the passion to deliver it. El Paso should be very proud of that education center.

Q: So, what should other communities do to mirror that?

Ross: You have to have the leadership and the financial commitment to do it. But you also have to have the vision. They have to understand that it’s not just about putting a pipe or a membrane in. If you really want people to buy into water reuse as a viable, long-term supply, you’ve got to get the education and outreach component. So, integrating the education center and bringing it in as part of the technology you’re operating, is a key aspect. I haven’t seen it done very well across the country, so that is something El Paso Water should try to share with others.

Q: You mentioned in your speech that you hope people reach out to individuals on the panel. Can you elaborate?

Ross: I actually want the folks in the audience and those watching to see the leaders and to reach out to them. People should look to these leaders to help them understand how to do the work of water reuse. Why reinvent the wheel? We have to be open and to talk about this. There is a lot of concern out there. For example, can we really use purified water on vegetable crops? The answer is yes, if we do it right. So we need to have open lines of communication, hear what the concerns are, and have those conversations that will help us solve the next generation of water questions and problems.

Q: Let’s turn gears to the Advanced Water Purification Facility (AWPF). What are your thoughts on what El Paso Water is going to be doing?

EPWater Chief Technical Officer Gilbert Trejo with  EPA Assistant Administrator of Water David RossRoss: Well, they’re cutting edge. I began my career working advanced water purification in San Diego in the mid 90s, and it didn’t get there. It took a couple of decades to get there. To see a real-life example of what El Paso Water is about to do, will really help the water sector and this initiative. You need that in order to make water reuse a viable option in this country. And it makes El Paso a leader in the area. It’s truly a commitment to excellence and to the vision.

Q: Chief Technical Officer Gilbert Trejo has said numerous times that the AWPF is a communications project, not a technical project. Do you agree with that?

Ross: There’s a heck of a lot of truth to that. Back in the day, we were using terminology the public didn’t buy. And to really get the public to buy in, and to invest, because these are taxpayer and ratepayer dollars that you have to invest, you have to figure out communications. EPA is focusing a lot right now on risk communication. Even if you’re right about the message, if you’re right about the technology, if you’re right about the economics, if the public doesn’t understand it, and you can’t communicate it correctly, you’re dead before you start.

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