El Paso Water gets $150M loans for land purchases

July 25, 2016
Low-interest loan to advance water importation strategy.  

EL PASO, TX, JULY 25, 2016 -- At its July 21 meeting in Austin, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) approved $150 million in additional loan funds under the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT) program for land and water acquisitions needed for El Paso's water importation strategy.

"Leveraging the SWIFT loan program at a time of historically low interest rates allows El Paso Water the flexibility to invest in future water sources, spread costs over a long time horizon and reduce the long-term impact to ratepayers," said El Paso Water President and CEO John Balliew.

Balliew added that costs to acquire this land in 10, 20 or 30 years could be significantly higher. "While expensive, investments in new water sources, including advanced purification, expanded desalination and importation, are all essential to meet the needs of El Paso's population growth."

The SWIFT loan funds are awarded to aid projects in the state's 50-year regional water plans. The Far West Texas plan anticipates water importation to begin in the year 2050. Conservation, water reuse projects or other initiatives are likely to push back that timeline, but with anticipated city and county growth, importation will be a critical part of El Paso's sustainable water strategy.

El Paso Water and its Public Service Board recently acquired a 26,470-acre ranch in Dell City for just under $50 million and took advantage of low-interest SWIFT loans approved in 2015. The Utility has begun conversations with multiple land owners with intentions of purchasing additional land and water rights for future water use.

"We will be responsible stewards of the land and water in Hudspeth County," said Balliew. "When we begin importation in 30-40 years, we are committed to managing the Dell City groundwater resources at sustainable levels while supplementing El Paso's water supply to sustain our own aquifer levels."

The $150 million in low-interest loan is part of an overall estimated $600 million investment needed for importation, an amount that includes infrastructure costs, including pipes, pumps, water treatment facilities and more.

"The utility will be an active partner with Dell City and Hudspeth County," said Balliew. "We expect to both lease and operate purchased lands for agriculture and a variety of uses that we are still exploring, said Balliew. "We will play an active role to contribute to the stability and economic viability of the Dell City community. That includes keeping and adding jobs."