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Water industry experts mark desalination plant's 10th anniversary

Employees, legislators and industry experts gathered to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant and its ushering of El Paso Water as a front runner in the industry.

"Given the vast brackish groundwater resources, desalination is an important part of the puzzle that will ensure we have a vital water future for this community, including for our kids, grandchildren and anybody that wants to live here in the future," said John Balliew, president and CEO of EPWater.

Since opening shop in 2007, the groundbreaking KBH Desalination Plant has played a pivotal role in building up El Paso's resiliency to droughts, changing weather conditions and the city's steady growth. Producing 17 billion gallons of water for El Pasoans since opening, the plant is a key piece of El Paso Water's water supply strategy and helps protect the fresh groundwater supplies of El Paso and Fort Bliss.

"This is an amazing public-public partnership that stands as a great example to the rest of the arid west and is an essential component of El Paso's portfolio of water resources to help sustain the thriving local economy and the military operations at Fort Bliss," said Guy Carpenter, President of the national WateReuse Association.

The KBH Desalination Plant has also become a model, attracting visitors from around the globe especially from other inland cities facing water supply challenges.

"The plant is a unique asset to this community that sets El Paso apart; it is a part of the story of the innovation here in in the city," Mayor Dee Margo said.

One of the biggest challenges of desalination is the disposal of concentrate or waste brine. In 2015, EPWater entered into a public-private partnership with Enviro Water Minerals. Once operational, EWM's first full-recovery desalination facility will take the waste brine concentrate from the KBH Desalination Plant and transform salts and minerals into commercial products. As part of the resulting process, EWM will produce up to 2 million gallons of water per day for El Paso.

Visitors on Friday were treated to tours of the desalination plant and the neighboring EWM. Researchers also discussed the work being done in the Consortium for Hi-Technology Investigations in Water & Wastewater (CHIWAWA) research laboratory, which is inside the desalination process building at KBH.

"The research underway here will shape the future of desalination for the nation," said Ed Archuleta, former President and CEO of EPWater and director of Water Initiatives at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Art Ruiz has shepherded the plant from its early developmental days to the innovative feat it is now. He is proud to see the KBH still successfully operating, with no major problems 10 years later.

"In the beginning, it was kind of rough because we came from [working with] surface water, so we had to fast track, learn this process of reverse osmosis and make it work," said Ruiz, desalination plant Superintendent. "Now, we can operate this plant very efficiently."