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El Paso Water reports another wastewater spill near Rio Grande

El Paso Times 11/23/2022 Martha Pskowski, El Paso Times
Businessman talks about untreated wastewater dumped into Rio Grande
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Blockages in a sewer line caused an estimated 250,000 gallons of wastewater to spill into the Rio Grande flood plain near the University of Texas at El Paso early this week.

El Paso Water located the spill on Monday morning and stopped the flow at approximately 3:30 p.m. that day. In a statement, the utility said a manhole was leaking because wipes, concrete and rags had created a large blockage in a 30-inch sewer line. The utility has come under scrutiny for diverting more than 1 billion gallons of untreated wastewater into the Rio Grande between August 2021 to January 2022 after the Frontera sewer main broke on the West Side.

“While this event had a limited impact on the riverbed, we are extremely sensitive to any wastewater in the riverbed, given the Frontera emergency last year,” El Paso Water interim Chief Operations Officer Gilbert Trejo said in a statement. “However, this event was a stark contrast to Frontera because it was identified and resolved within hours.”

The leaking manhole cover was on a Texas Department of Transportation right-of-way, half a mile south of the Spur 1966 interchange near the UTEP campus and the U.S.-Mexico border. According to the utility, approximately 250,000 gallons of wastewater were spilled into the flood plain and an undetermined amount reached the Rio Grande. The Frontera discharge was further upstream, near Sunland Park, New Mexico.

A manhole cover leaked untreated wastewater on in a Texas Department of Transportation right of way Monday. Approximately 250,000 gallons of wastewater spilled into the Rio Grande flood plain. By Tuesday, the spill had been stopped and El Paso Water began sanitizing the area. © El Paso Water A manhole cover leaked untreated wastewater on in a Texas Department of Transportation right of way Monday. Approximately 250,000 gallons of wastewater spilled into the Rio Grande flood plain. By Tuesday, the spill had been stopped and El Paso Water began sanitizing the area.

The International Boundary and Water Commission notified El Paso Water of the discharge. The utility does not know when the discharge began but reported the spill to relevant authorities, including the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, or TCEQ.

El Paso currently is not drawing drinking water from the Rio Grande, so the spill did not jeopardize the city’s water supply. However, the utility began disinfecting the area after the discharge stopped. The riverbed is predominantly dry at this time of year.

An El Paso Water maintenance crew works on the manhole cover that spilled untreated wastewater in the Rio Grande flood plain near UTEP. © El Paso Water An El Paso Water maintenance crew works on the manhole cover that spilled untreated wastewater in the Rio Grande flood plain near UTEP.

"TCEQ staff have been working with El Paso Water staff conducting an onsite investigation and providing regulatory oversight to ensure proper containment, clean-up, and adequate management of the sewage spill," TCEQ media relations specialist Victoria Cann said in an email.

"Untreated wastewater may contain many hazards, including infectious organisms, intestinal bacteria and other disease agents," Cann said. "Precautions should be taken by anyone involved in cleanup activities or any others who may be exposed."

TCEQ advises people with private wells or other drinking water supplies within a half mile of a wastewater discharge incident to boil their water before using it. The public also should avoid any contact with wastewater or contaminated soil in the spill area.

More:New Mexico fines El Paso Water $1.2M for sewage discharge into Rio Grande in Sunland Park

In a statement, El Paso Water said the incident “serves as a reminder for people to be extremely cognizant of what is put down the drain and the damage that it can cause.”

The state of New Mexico fined El Paso Water $1.2 million for discharging wastewater into the Rio Grande in 2021 and early 2022. The utility is challenging the fine. Across the border, wastewater also has entered the river from sewer drains in Juárez. In July, the Juárez water utility attributed the problem to blockages in sewers and vandalism of manhole covers.

More:Juárez water utility under pressure to stop raw sewage from entering Rio Grande

Staff writer Martha Pskowski may be reached at mpskowski@elpasotimes.com and @psskow on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: El Paso Water reports another wastewater spill near Rio Grande

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