EPWater releases wastewater to the Rio Grande

EL PASO -- Complications in repairs to a major Westside wastewater line have caused El Paso Water to continue to divert wastewater to the Rio Grande to prevent impacts to residences and businesses.

Community Impacts from Wastewater Repairs

On August 13, EPWater experienced breaks to two parallel wastewater lines – known as the Frontera Force Main. This set of pipelines collects all the Westside wastewater – from showers, sinks, and toilets – and delivers flows to the Hickerson Water Reclamation Facility, which then cleans the water for reuse and for release to the Rio Grande.    

“It appears that the recent storms contributed to a major degradation of already corroded wastewater lines in the Doniphan area. The flooding and high water table destabilized soil conditions and led to water infiltration,” said EPWater Chief Technical Officer Gilbert Trejo.  “This is causing delays because repairs have become more complicated.”

The pipe breaks initially caused a backup of wastewater, which came up from manholes in a low-lying Upper Valley neighborhood and even emerged into some homes. Wastewater was diverted to stormwater ponding areas and street drainage nearby, eventually making its way to the Rio Grande. Nearby customers continue to be affected by odors and other disruptions. EPWater has begun disinfecting and deodorizing the ponds to minimize the impact. 

Environmental Impacts

“We hoped that the odors and other inconveniences would only last a matter of days, but because of extensive damage to one of the pipes and the continuous wastewater flows, repairs will take longer,” said Trejo. “We have made the difficult decision to continue releasing wastewater to the Rio Grande. Unfortunately, this could result in adverse ecosystem impacts, but we are trying to protect the health and safety of our customers.”

EPWater reported the initial wastewater incident and has maintained regular contact with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality throughout this wastewater emergency.

Health and Safety Caution

This week, the wastewater in the Rio Grande was heavily diluted with river flows. However, the releases from Elephant Butte are ending, and river water is expected to diminish in the coming days. Stormwater and the high water table will only provide limited dilution.  

The point of wastewater release is 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. 

“As a matter of public health and safety, we urge people to stay away from the river,” said Trejo. 

New Pipeline Replacement Accelerated

Repairs to the wastewater line and cleanup efforts are expected to take a few more weeks, which means wastewater flows to the Rio Grande will continue. 

In the meantime, 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.

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

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