El Paso Water leads the way in innovative resource management through water management solutions and land management practices. Both are needed for smart, sustainable growth and to enhance quality of life. We purchase open space lands to maintain natural stormwater flows and reduce flooding, and we partner with the City and non-profits to create opportunities for recreation and exploration.
Rio Bosque Wetlands Park comes to life with EPWater
Thousands of gallons of water now irrigate the once-dry Rio Bosque Wetlands Park, thanks to an El Paso Water project completed in 2015. A long-awaited pipeline delivers treated wastewater to the park from the nearby Roberto Bustamante Wastewater Treatment Plant.
The Rio Grande flowed through the area many years ago, and riverside forests, wet meadows and other native habitats populated the area. The International Boundary and Water Commission constructed the wetlands to offset the environmental impacts of building the concrete-lined canal American Canal Extension.
In 1996, the University of Texas at El Paso began managing Rio Bosque under a long-term agreement with the City of El Paso. It planned to re-establish the native habitats that once thrived in the river valley. The Bustamante plant provided treated wastewater for irrigation in late fall and early winter. The park manager trucked in water from wells when the plant diverted its water to farmers for crops. Native plant communities developed in the bosque’s upland areas, but the wetland cells were dry.
The City transferred Rio Bosque to El Paso Water in 2012, clearing the way to provide additional water for restoration. The utility subsequently built a dedicated pipeline to deliver water from the Bustamante plant to the 372-acre park. The pipeline deliveries, up to 4.3 million gallons of water daily from May through September, are transforming the wetlands. The first water delivery was May 1, 2015.
Water recharges the aquifer as it flows through areas that were once dry during spring and summer and, while restoration is a long-term project, the park is noticeably greener and the wildlife population has increased. Native vegetation thrives in flooded wetland cells and along the river channel. Hundreds of species of land and water birds visit the park at various times of the year.
The Rio Bosque will flourish even more with EPWater’s recent acquisition of water rights. The park will receive water in addition to treated wastewater during the critical growing season.
The U.S. Corp of Engineers is evaluating the feasibility of adding trail improvements, signage and educational opportunities that create a more attractive destination for nature-based tourism and other environmental benefits.
Reducing flood risk while preserving open spaces
El Paso’s stormwater system includes both man-made and natural features. Arroyos are natural drainage paths that can reduce the speed of rushing water. Natural depressions retain stormwater runoff and the rocks and debris that it might otherwise wash away. By ordinance, El Paso Water preserves these areas when possible and sets aside 10 percent of stormwater fee revenues for projects that manage stormwater and preserve open space.
However, open spaces provide more than flood protection during rain storms. This undeveloped acreage, along with the stormwater basins, ponds, channels and agricultural drains, can be used as green infrastructure when the weather is dry. They promote healthy lifestyles and provide opportunities to enjoy outdoor recreation in many ways.
The Parks and Recreation Master Plan includes stormwater facilities. We design ponds with landscaping, perimeter paths and other amenities and modify designs to include skate park features when feasible. We also work with the City to transform barren desert areas into landscaped park ponds.
Stormwater fee revenues have purchased 443 acres of open space property beginning with Palisades Canyon in 2010. Hikers now have access to this 202-acre area that overlooks the city and guides water down the mountain during heavy rain events. To date, EPWater has purchased seven properties that reduce flood risk for citizens and property while providing recreational venues for communities and protecting wildlife habitats.
Open Space Purchases
Wildwood II Arroyo
Enlarging Franklin Mountains State Park
El Paso Water (EPWater) has played a major role in the expansion of the Franklin Mountains State Park over the past two decades. In the summer of 1989, just two years after the park was opened to the public, the State of Texas purchased nearly 7,000 acres from EPWater. We transferred another 1,659 acres to the park in 2009 and 658 acres in 2013.
As part of a partnership with Texas Parks and Wildlife, EPWater has transferred a total of 11,731 acres to the park at a small fraction of the appraised value.
“It is our hope that generations present and future will be able to enjoy the awesome beauty that engulfs the Franklin Mountains State Park,” said President and CEO John Balliew.
The park is a popular destination for nature enthusiasts and those who enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, rock climbing and camping. The addition of land to the park helps protect the various species of Chihuahuan Desert plants and animals that are native to the park from any future urban development.
In 1979, when the Texas Legislature passed a bill allowing Texas Parks and Wildlife to acquire the Franklin Mountains, their intentions were to provide lasting protection to the scenic and historic features that surround the area. El Paso Water had a vision to add to this local treasure with these land transfers so our community can enjoy the awesome beauty that is the Franklin Mountains State Park.
EPWater Provides Trailheads, Access to Hiking
El Paso Water remains committed to providing public access to open spaces, especially our local parks. As part of that commitment, El Paso Water allows many of its properties to be used as trailheads for the public.
In 2012, the City of El Paso passed a Quality of Life Bond to finance numerous improvement projects around the city. Among those projects was the Trailhead Plan, which seeks to improve access to the Franklin Mountains State Park for outdoor enthusiasts.
The Public Service Board and the City approved an agreement to partner on the project by granting the City temporary use of EPWater properties as trailhead sites. The City received the right to build improvements on the sites, such as parking lots or park benches, and accepted responsibility for maintaining the properties while it uses the land.
The trailhead sites in the agreement are:
Chuck Heinrich Park – Martin Luther King and Loma Casitas
Redd Road – Redd and Helen of Troy
Round House – Martin Luther King, far north of Loma Real
Lazy Cow – Martin Luther King, far north of Loma Real
Palisades Canyon – Rim and East Robinson
The City also contributes a large number of its own properties to the project as trailheads.
The Lazy Cow and Round House trailheads were added in November 2016 as part of revisions to the agreement approved by the Public Service Board and the City.
EPWater will continue to partner with the City and other organizations to improve public access to our natural resources.
Resler Canyon: Rehabilitating a Nature Preserve
Rainstorms in 2006 dealt a heavy blow to the Wakeem/Teschner Nature Preserve at the Resler Canyon arroyo in West El Paso, causing severe erosion in the canyon and putting nearby homes and businesses at risk. Monsoons in subsequent years made the problem even worse.
The Frontera Land Alliance purchased the arroyo in 2005 to manage it as a nature preserve, but the damage impacted much of the plant and wildlife and made the area unsafe for hikers. El Paso Water saw a critical need to make repairs and ensure that the arroyo fulfilled its stormwater purpose. The two organizations partnered in 2014 to repair, restore and protect the canyon arroyo and return it to its natural state. El Paso Water invested about $400,000 to install a new outfall structure and re-stabilize the slopes to allow stormwater runoff to flow smoothly into the arroyo, preventing excessive erosion.
Now the preserve is open to the public for walking and wildlife and plant observation.
“Previously, the volume of water rushed at high speed and eroded a lot of the arroyo and destroyed some important habitats,” said Frontera Land Alliance board member Scott Cutler. “Now that the outfall is in place, the water slows down as it travels through the arroyo, protecting those habitats.”
Frontera Land Alliance volunteers host regular canyon cleanups, which include spreading seeds to re-establish native plants that will help prevent erosion. EPWater continues to partner with Frontera Land Alliance through participation in these events and our common interests in protecting spaces that help serve stormwater objectives while preserving lands for habitat and recreational purposes.
Helping Jump-Start Desert Botanical Garden
In the early 2000s, El Paso Water donated $40,000, the very first donation, to the Keystone Heritage Park Association to establish the Desert Botanical Garden at Keystone Heritage Park.
Located in the Upper Valley, the site at the time was nothing more than a plot of dirt surrounded by tires, bricks and trash. The Junior League of El Paso adopted the project and led the efforts to revitalize the area.
“We felt the site needed to be preserved because of the wetlands,” explained Joanne Burt, board member of the Keystone Heritage Park Association. She also emphasized the importance of having a botanical garden in every major city, including El Paso. “When I travel, I look up where the botanical garden is, and El Paso didn’t have one. We were committed to giving El Paso a botanical garden.”
Burt expressed the board’s appreciation for the $40,000 donation, which kicked off efforts to establish the Botanical Garden. “When the utility agreed to help us, it was the biggest high for us,” she said. “It was our first donation, and it gave us the impetus to go on and raise the remainder of the money. The Garden represents a $1.2 million investment in our community. That’s huge.”
The garden today is home to a xeric demonstration garden, a children’s garden, an amphitheater and more.
EPWater continues to partner with the Keystone Heritage Park Association on the garden. Our conservation manager, Anai Padilla, has provided expert guidance on drought-tolerant plants and Vice President Marcela Navarrete has served on the Association’s board for 14 years, mostly recently as treasurer.