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Posted on: May 13, 2022

Seeing Desalination in Action: Las Cruces Utilities Visits El Paso Plant

Las Cruces Utilities El Paso Desalination Plant Tour

By Cassie McClure

Published in Las Cruces Bulletin 05.13.22

The future of water in our region will include innovative methods that account for our population growth, like looking at how to treat salty water that may exist deeper underground. El Paso Water (EPW) gave a tour of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant to Las Cruces Utilities (LCU) on Friday, May 6, 2022, to see what that future could look like.

Under the guidance of EPW Desalination Plant Superintendent Art Ruiz, LCU staff, including LCU Director Delilah Walsh, LCU Assistant Director Adrienne Widmer, LCU Deputy Director Water Ronald Borunda, LCU Wastewater Treatment Manager Lorenzo Martinez, and LCU Assistant Wastewater Treatment Manager Joaquin Murillo joined Las Cruces City Councilor and LCU Board of Commissioner Johana Bencomo and LCU Board Commissioners Dr. Harry Hardee and Raymond Hickman to learn more about the desalination process in El Paso.

El Paso relies on two water sources: water from the Rio Grande and freshwater from the Hueco and Mesilla Bolson aquifers. The Hueco Bolson contains more brackish (salty) water than fresh. The desalination plant started operations in 2007 to desalinate and treat the brackish water. The brackish water is pumped from two wellfields – one field is source wells and one is blend wells. The source wells are those treated by the plant and the blend wells are freshwater, which is mixed with the treated water later. 

Filtering of sand, grit, and gravel comes first. Then the salty water is put through reverse osmosis, where it is pressurized and pushed through membranes that separate salts, bacteria and other contaminants from the water. The salts and contaminants rejected are called concentrate and are collected for disposal. The plant typically processes 27.5 million gallons of water a day. Treating water takes about 30 minutes from start to finish, and the plant runs 24/7, with quality testing every two hours. Three injection wells put the concentrated saline water back underground in an aquifer about 20 miles away and not connected to the Hueco Bolson.

The trip ended with a stop at TecH2O, the water resources learning center next to the plant. Open to the public, the center is a tool for EPW to instruct the next generations on how to conserve water and recognize their place in the Chihuahuan Desert.

LCU – Your Utility Connection. Customer Central can be reached at 575-541-2111 from 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. LCU provides clean, safe, and reliable services to Las Cruces residents and businesses. Learn more at: las-cruces.org/180/Utilities  

For emergencies, call Dispatch at 526-0500. 

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PHOTO 1: LCU staff and Las Cruces City Councilor and LCU Board Commissioner Johana Bencomo and LCU Board Commissioners Dr. Harry Hardee and Raymond Hickman received a tour of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant.

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