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El Paso Water Supply: Tap Water and Why It’s Safe to Drink 
Sewage Pumping and the Cultural History of Wastewater and Sewage Systems
July 21, 2020
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a glass full of water with a few drops falling on its surfaceAmerican water drinking supplies are among the safest in the world. This did not happen overnight and, depending on how far back in history you want to go, the fight for clean water began centuries ago with ancient civilizations. Today in America, however, millions of people have easy access to free drinking water thanks to highly advanced and implemented water treatment processes. Here at Clowe & Cowan of El Paso, we have a love for water and water treatment so we thought we’d take a look at how tap water happens in a desert region. 

The Wonderful Molecule of H2O

You don’t need us to tell you that water is the source of life. We all learn this early in our lives, but it’s easy to forget just how miraculous this very special molecule is to the survival and continuation of all things. As a molecule, water has some incredible properties and is extremely versatile. You drink water, but you also surf on water. As a solid, it cools your drink. As a vapor in a small enclosed area, it will open up your pores and take out impurities. Some of its unique properties include the fact that water exists in the form of water, gas, or solid.  It demonstrates the properties of cohesion and adhesion.  It is because of its chemical properties that water serves a variety of purposes for life on earth. 

The Beginning of Water Treatment in the United States 

It was in 1908, Jersey City, New Jersey was the first city in the United States to begin performing disinfection on water supply. After that, cities in the U.S followed suit in disinfecting water and making it safe for consumption. The ease with which we open up our tap and enjoy safe drinking water is a privilege that we often take for granted. In 2019, about one-quarter of the world’s population still lacked access to clean drinking water. Our Southern neighbor of Mexico has about three-quarters of its people drinking packaged water. This has made them one of the world’s leaders in the consumption of packaged water. 

Most tap water in the United States comes from rivers, lakes, and groundwater so it must undergo a rigorous water treatment process to be safe for people to drink. In the El Paso area, a lot of water comes from the Rio Grande and is supplied by the snow that melts in Southern Colorado.

In 1905, the Rio Grande Project was authorized in El Paso. This ensured that unused water from the Rio Grande supplies would be stored for irrigation purposes. In 1916, Elephant Butte Dam and Reservoir was built north of the quaint little town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. The water from this reservoir that holds up to 2 million-acre feet of water helped trickle down to the southeastern tip of New Mexico and the far west arm of Texas, including El Paso. So while El Paso has faced challenges for keeping the area’s water supply, the concern has led to constant efforts for having a backup plan. About twenty years ago, El Paso began moving on this through the public utility company and came up with strategies to maintain El Paso’s water supply without interruption, rain or no rain.  

Many El Paso residents would be surprised to know that the city is actually a leader in water conservation efforts and is looked upon as an example for communities that have prepared for water shortages and implemented effective strategies for saving water. 

A Quick Look at Water Treatment Process 

The process involves several steps and begins with the following:

  • Coagulation and flocculation – This is when chemicals are added to the water. The molecules in these chemicals will bind with the dirt particles and this forms larger particles. 
  • Sedimentation – These newer heavier particles are heavy so they sink to the bottom of the tank. 
  • Filtration – The filtration stage has the water on top pass through several filters of sand, gravel, and charcoal. This filters out bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other unwanted stuff. 
  • Disinfection – Towards the end of the process, the water is disinfected by adding chemicals such as chlorine or chloramine. This also helps kill viruses, parasites, bacteria, and germs. 

Depending on the water source, other chemicals are often added to adjust the pH level or the hardness of the water. Places across the country face different challenges when it comes to providing their population with drinking water. In El Paso, for example, the growing population has raised some concern about whether the Rio Grande is sufficient to provide the necessary water supply. 

A Brief History of Chlorination 

In addition to our drinking water, chlorine is also used for swimming pools as a way to kill certain pathogens. Chlorine was first used in Sweden in 1744. Chlorine was first used to remove bad odors from water, but this led to the discovery that chlorine was also useful in disinfecting and reducing the amount of disease in water. A little science tidbit: chlorine inactivates a microorganism by damaging its cell membrane. This, of course, took many years of study and trial and error, but chlorine is a big part of clear water!

Here at Clowe and Cowan, we strive for innovative ways to approach wastewater treatment systems. Our work in the United States and Mexico has given us a breadth of experience in the various challenges communities, refineries, power plants, and more face when it comes to keeping their water supplies clean. Connect with us and find out more about what we can do for you and your water systems. 

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