Bustamante Wastewater Plant turns 30

Bustamante Wastewater Plant turns 30
Posted on 11/05/2021
Bustamante Plant

Standing firmly on 22 acres of land next to the U.S. Mexico border, the Roberto R. Bustamante Wastewater Treatment Plant is celebrating 30 years of operation. Since 1991, the plant has stood the test of time as a labor of love from the late engineer who envisioned it, Roberto R. Bustamante.

The plant is located in the Lower Valley and can treat up to 39 million gallons of wastewater daily. Treated wastewater is released into the Riverside Canal and used for downstream irrigation. Wildlife and native vegetation at the Rio Bosque Wetlands Preserve also benefit from the clean water piped from the Bustamante Plant.

Making a vision a reality

Roberto R. BustamantePlans to build the plant began in the 80’s when a growing east El Paso required a bigger and modern wastewater treatment facility. Before the Bustamante plant, the area relied on a lagoon type of facility named the Socorro Plant.

“The Socorro Plant was, of course, inside what was thought to be the city of Socorro,” said EPWater President and CEO John Balliew.

“There were issues about whether or not we could build a new plant on the same site, so we chose a different site,” Balliew said.

At the time, Roberto R. Bustamante was the assistant general manager of the utility.

“Mr. Bustamante did the negotiations with El Paso County Water Improvement District because without their approval, it would have been a contested case, and it would have taken a lot longer,” Balliew said.

Bustamante oversaw the design of the facility and helped determine where the treated wastewater would be discharged. As an experienced engineer and knowledge of the area’s needs, Bustamante proposed discharging wastewater to farmers for irrigation and distributing the rest to the Rio Grande.

Bustamante dedicated 32 years of his career to EPWater. The new wastewater treatment plant was his last big project before he retired. At the age of 94, he remained proud of leading the efforts for the facility. EPWater was able to visit with Bustamante before he passed away on June 12, 2021.

“I’m proud of working on the design of the plant and working for 32 years on treating wastewater and water distribution for the whole city,” Bustamante said.

Looking back and into the future

In January of 1991, El Paso’s newest wastewater treatment plant was inaugurated. The Public Service Board named the plant after Bustamante in honor of his three-decade-long dedication to the utility. One of the plant’s first employees was Jose Rios, who still works there.

“They told us it was a state-of-the-art plant at that time, so everybody was excited to see what it was going to do,” Rios said. The aeration basins were considered to be the best technology in biological processes, resulting in high quality water for irrigation purposes.

The Bustamante plant will soon play another important role in the community, this time to provide sustainable and drought-proof drinking water resources. Treated wastewater from the plant will soon become source water for the future Advanced Water Purification Facility, which will be next door. Construction is expected to begin within the next two years. The facility will use a robust, multi-step treatment process to produce purified water and deliver it straight to customers’ taps. The new water source will help ensure water demands for the growing community can continue to be met.

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