Water – Why YOU Should Care
by Judy Ackerman
For over 60 years El Paso Water Utilities (EPWU) and the Public Service Board (PSB) have done such an outstanding job of ensuring El Pasoans have water, (with the few restrictions for days to water and time of day during the hot months), that now the public takes water for granted. We take water for granted at all our peril.
On September 26, the PSB held a strategic planning meeting to outline progressively more complicated and more costly methods to obtain water for our growing city. The meeting was to share information and solicit ideas from the public on managing our most critical and life-giving resource - water. But only one member of the public and zero elected officials, bothered to attend.
Question: Living in the desert, where every living thing depends on water, how did we get so complacent?
Answer: Because of the excellent work of the PSB.
A Brief History
In 1951 we had the “drought of record” meaning it was the worst drought in recorded history. Every day, El Paso papers headlined the drought. Even with water restrictions, wells ran dry and some El Pasoans had NO water at all. The public called for the creation of an independent board to manage water resources and do long range planning (50 years out). The PSB was born in 1952. The drought of the 1950s lasted 20 years. In 2013 we set the new “drought of record” with much less water available than in 1951. This drought could last 20 years or more.
Currently, EPWU gets water from groundwater, the river, desalination and reuse (purple pipe). In case of continuing drought, or growing population, the EPWU needs to expand its portfolio of water options. Future sources of water could be advanced purification, additional desalinization plants, purification of water from agricultural drains and piping in water from near and far. These options require planning and capital expenditures now, in order to be available for future demands for water.
- Elephant Butte Dam in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, controls “waters of the US” for agricultural use – NOT municipal.
- Because of agreements with El Paso County Water Improvement District # 1 (the irrigation district), the EPWU usually gets 50% of our municipal water from the river during the irrigation season which normally lasts from 15 Feb to 15 Oct (nine months).
- In 2013 the irrigation season lasted only 6 weeks because there was so little water available in Elephant Butte and only 9% of our water came from the river. Additional groundwater pumping had to make up the difference.
- The amount of rain we receive in El Paso has very little impact on the water available in the river.
- Water in the Rio Grande comes from snow melt in Colorado and Northern New Mexico.
- The ground water we use from the Hueco and Mesilla Bolsons is a limited resource and we are depleting it faster than we can recharge the aquifers.
- More than half of the Hueco Bolson is brackish; too salty for drinking water.
- EPWU and the PSB are eager to share their information and expertise.
What Can We Do?
To ensure El Paso’s sustainability and future growth, stay informed on water issues. Attend PSB meetings. Check the PSB website. Visit EPWU’s TecH2O Center. Practice water conservation.