Opinion: El Paso Water ensures our water supply is safe to drink

By Kristina Mena

Whether it’s extreme weather or a major pipe break in an aging system, communities are susceptible to disruptions to their water and sanitation infrastructure.

Kristina Mena

Given the globalization of our economy, the complexities of urban planning and the consequences of climate change, we can now expect the unexpected. This has complicated the decision-making process for prioritizing infrastructure projects – which once relied on historical data – as water utilities carefully allocate money and resources to ensure high-quality drinking water and efficient management. wastewater and rainwater.

Public health safeguards are the cornerstone of any water utility’s operations, and El Paso Water is no exception. No decision by the Utilities Board or utility staff is taken lightly in this area.

El Paso Water has diversified its water resources, and this is what sets El Paso’s water portfolio apart from other cities. This also means that suitable treatment processes must be implemented. Most communities depend on a supply of drinking water from rivers and lakes or groundwater from an aquifer. In El Paso, we rely on both.

Obviously, drinking water sources are not sterile, which is why utilities treat water for consumption. Before the water flows into customers’ taps, drinking water is treated by reliable treatment processes, such as chemical clarification and ultraviolet disinfection systems. El Paso Water employees perform extensive testing and monitoring throughout treatment to ensure the water is safe to drink.

Human health risk assessments have provided water quality benchmarks with a public health consideration to inform these standards, as well as to inform when an event such as the recent Frontera sewage emergency occurs. . Multiple ruptures in two major pipes forced El Paso Water to divert millions of gallons of sewage to the Rio Grande to protect public health.

Much of Frontera’s sewage emergency has been well documented. However, few are aware of the analysis and science behind decisions to keep homes and businesses safe.

When considering threats to human health from an environmental event, the primary health risk factor is exposure. If there is no exposure, there is no risk. With Frontera, it was important to remove exposure quickly. Diverting wastewater to the riverbed and away from neighborhoods reduced exposure.

As a water microbiologist, I have seen that wastewater spills related to an unforeseen circumstance – like a burst pipe – unfortunately occur all over the world. The pathogenic properties of wastewater pose an immediate public risk, so the first course of action is to eliminate exposure, followed by remediation. EPWater has taken aggressive action to clean up affected areas to mitigate adverse consequences to the environment and the public.

To advance

El Paso Water is forecasting a short river season this year, with only about 16% of the normal season allotment. The river bed cleanup effort was 100% complete before the river water was received from the Elephant Butte Reservoir.

Current water quality sampling has revealed that river flows have returned to pre-spill conditions. Incidentally, water in rivers always requires more treatment and filtration as streams capture runoff that passes through roads, farms and towns, collecting pollutants along the way.

It’s hard to predict when a rupture will occur, but we have the technology – both analytical and in terms of treatment – ​​to predict health risks and identify how to reduce them.

El Paso Water’s essential employees work hard every day to ensure that treatment plants and the critical network of underground pipes, pumps and valves deliver reliable and safe water to customers. No one ever anticipates an event of the magnitude of the Frontera sewage emergency, but El Paso Water favors proactive approaches and investments to protect infrastructure. Our public health depends on it, and customers deserve no less.

Kristina Mena is chair of the Public Service Board, which governs El Paso Water. She is also Dean of the El Paso Campus of the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at the Houston School of Public Health.

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