El Paso at water crossroads

Nov. 4, 2000
Ed Archuleta delivered a simple message at El Paso's second annual State of the Water address Wednesday: The city is not running out of water, but it is running out of inexpensive water.

By Rene Romo

EL PASO, Texas, Nov. 2, 2000 (Albuquerque Journal) — Ed Archuleta delivered a simple message at El Paso's second annual State of the Water address Wednesday: The city is not running out of water, but it is running out of inexpensive water.

"Our choice is clear," Archuleta, general manager of El Paso Water Utilities, told an audience of 100 gathered at the El Paso Museum of Art for the presentation. "We can pay a little more now for our water, or we can pay more — potentially a lot more — later in the form of water shortages, which harm our businesses, job base and quality of life."

The Public Service Board, which oversees the water utility, held its first State of the Water presentation last year to address widespread concerns the city's water supply was drying up and the regional economy could be crippled.

Archuleta sounded a sober but optimistic note in his speech to a group of business leaders and politicians.

"I won't attempt to sugarcoat the situation we face," Archuleta said.

The Hueco Bolson, the aquifer that supplies about 40 percent of El Paso's water, is projected to run out of fresh water in 25 to 30 years if pumping continues at the current rate.

At the same time, El Paso's population of about 700,000 is expected to double in the next 50 years.

The Public Service Board plans to increase the city's reliance on drinking water from the Rio Grande until the river is used year-round for drinking water.

But Archuleta said planners are considering alternative sources, such as piping ground water from areas such as Dell City, Van Horn and Valentine in Texas; desalinating the brackish ground water left over after fresh water is pumped from the Hueco Bolson; and converting more irrigation water to municipal uses.

In addition, Archuleta said, the Public Service Board recently negotiated a tentative 40-year contract with an irrigators group, the El Paso Water Improvement District No. 1, that allows the city to buy up to 26,500 additional acre-feet of water per year. The contract requires the approval of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the City Council.

An acre-foot is 325,851 gallons.

The longstanding cost of water from irrigators — $15 per acre-foot — would rise to $193.40 per acre-foot at the start of the 40-year contract, Archuleta said. That price increase would result in an increase of about 3 percent on the average customer's monthly bill, El Paso Water Utilities spokesman Karol Parker said.

While El Paso planners juggle the city's concerns, Archuleta said, they are also reaching out to leaders in the sister city of Ciudad Ju

To stem the potentially devastating economic impact of Ju

Archuleta said El Pasoans have shown great progress in water conservation efforts: Since 1990, city residents have reduced per capita water use by about 20 percent to 164 gallons per day, compared with Albuquerque's rate last year of 204 gallons per person per day.

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