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The Rio Grande is a key resource in our water supply portfolio. It provides 50 percent of our drinking water in a typical year.

The Rio Grande begins its journey in northern Colorado and travels nearly 1,900 miles through New Mexico and Texas before it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Its water is used for agricultural irrigation, industry and recreation. Albuquerque and El Paso are among the cities using river water for municipal water supplies.

River water is stored in the Elephant Butte Reservoir, approximately 125 miles north of El Paso, and the Caballo Reservoir, which is 25 miles downstream from Elephant Butte. Water is released during the irrigation season, typically March through September in non-drought years, but we received less than 10 percent of our normal supply in 2013.

The water goes through an extensive treatment process that is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Our laboratory can detect substances at the parts-per-billion level, so you can be sure that the water coming from your faucet is safe to drink.

Our first water treatment plant began operating in 1943. It produced up 12 million gallons of drinking water per day. Today, plants in Central El Paso and the Mission Valley treat river water. They can produce 100 million gallons of water per day. These plants operate primarily during the irrigation season, but future advances in technology will allow us to treat river water throughout the year.

Learn more about river water at the TecH2O Water Resources Learning Center, 10751 Montana Ave. It is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. most Saturdays.

El Paso Water Utilities pumps water from the Hueco Bolson and the Mesilla Bolson aquifers, underground geologic formations that extend into Texas, New Mexico and Chihuahua, Mexico. The bolsons supplement river water during the spring and summer. They are our sole source of drinking water at other times of the year.

Our wells bring the water to the surface. Some underground the water requires very little treatment before going to customers, but some water must be treated to meet drinking water standards.

The Hueco Bolson contains both fresh and salty water. Our desalination plant removes salts and other dissolved minerals from the salty water and makes it safe to drink. Areas of both aquifers contain traces of arsenic. We have arsenic-removal facilities in the Upper Valley, Northeast and East El Paso. Our Upper Valley plant is one of the largest of its type.

For many years, the Hueco Bolson was El Paso's primary source of drinking water. It was pumped faster than it could be replenished, and we were on track to deplete its freshwater supplies by 2025.

Now, we use as much river water as possible, although we pump more underground water when drought reduces river water supplies. Our models show that with careful management, the fresh water in the Hueco Bolson will last for more than 50 years.

Visit the TecH2O Water Resources Learning Center, 10751 Montana Ave, to learn more about underground water. Watch our video for a virtual tour of the center.

Our Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination plant is the world's largest inland desalination plant. The plant extends our water resources by giving El Paso an additional source of water and helps us serve customers in emergency situations and during drought.

The Hueco Bolson aquifer holds vast amounts of water, but most of the water is brackish. Brackish water is saltier than fresh water, but not as salty as seawater. The desalination process treats brackish water and makes it safe to drink.

Changing brackish water into drinking water reduces the amount of fresh water that we pump from the aquifer. It also protects freshwater wells and keeps them from becoming brackish.

Large amounts of water have been pumped in some parts of the Hueco Bolson, which lowered the water level in those areas. When water levels are lowered, brackish water is drawn into areas that contain freshwater wells and makes the water saltier. Eventually the freshwater wells become brackish, and the water is too salty to drink.

The Hueco Bolson has always contained brackish water, but the water could not be used before the desalination plant was built. Wells for the plant capture brackish water so it can be treated. This stops the brackish water from reaching the freshwater wells, which keeps the water fresh.

Read more about desalination on our website, or watch our videos to learn how the process works.

Many communities discharge treated wastewater into a river, stream or ocean. We believe wastewater is a valuable resource. Our philosophy is that water should not be used just once. Water reuse, also known as water reclamation or recycling, treats water collected from homes and businesses so it can be reused safely in beneficial ways.

Water can be used for many purposes, depending on the level of treatment at our wastewater plants. It can be used for nondrinking purposes such as irrigation; it can augment our drinking water supplies; or it can be discharged to the river and used again downstream. This urban water use and reuse cycle is an extension of nature's water cycle, which recycles water from the atmosphere to earth and back again.

The water that goes into the drain comes back to us for treatment. We use the best available technology to remove harmful materials, and additional treatment ensures that it is safe for reuse. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Department of Environmental Quality regulate and monitor the treatment process. We test the water throughout the process to ensure that the goals and standards are met.

The amount of treatment the water receives is determined by how it will be used. After treatment, water is used for irrigation at golf courses, parks and other large turf areas; industrial processes such as power generation; and soil compaction and dust control at construction sites.

With additional treatment, the water can be stored in the aquifer where it blends with our underground water supplies. Advanced treatment produces water that is purer than drinking water and exceeds all drinking water standards.

Our videos show how we reuse water in El Paso, and the reclaimed water section of our website explains why water should be used more than once.

Water conservation is extremely important in desert areas such as El Paso. We have finite water resources, and reducing water use stretches our water supplies. Conservation helps us conserve water for future generations. It is also our first line of defense against drought.

Our conservation program has been very successful. Daily water use averaged nearly 200 gallons per person in 1991 when the program began. Over the years, the program's education, enforcement and incentives have helped reduce daily water use to 134 gallons per day.

El Paso's water conservation ordinance bans water-wasting practices and activities. It also includes the landscape watering schedule that regulates watering days and times. Our rebates encouraged customers to purchase water-efficient appliances, plumbing fixtures and landscaping. Our incentive programs reduced water use by more than 3 billion gallons per year.

Our low-flow showerhead program and rate structure provide additional incentives for conservation. The cost increases when large amounts of water are used to irrigate lawns and gardens. A higher than usual water bill reminds customers that water is a precious commodity and encourages them to conserve.

Our staff increases conservation awareness through publications, presentations, campaigns and programs. Inspectors enforce the water conservation ordinance and remind residents to conserve.

Check our website for conservation tips, videos and our water smart plant list. You can also register online for conservation workshops at the TecH2O Water Resources Learning Center.

Our customers might be satisfied with high-quality water and exceptional service, but we are always looking ahead. If we want to provide water for future generations, we need to be planning today.

We implemented new management strategies in 1991 after adopting a 50-year water resource management plan. We looked into the future, determined how much water would be needed, and developed strategies for obtaining reliable, long-term water supplies.

Our plans are now included in a regional plan that is updated regularly. We planned for years when the water supply is sufficiant and years when drought reduces the river supply. We plan to increase conservation, use more river water when it is available, and develop more water resources to keep pace with the city's growing demands.

For example, river water is too salty for conventional treatment when the irrigation season ends, but desalination can make it usable. Another strategy would store treated river water underground in the Hueco Bolson during March and April when water use is low. We plan to implement these strategies by 2020.

Years ago, we began purchasing land in other Far West Texas counties. We can pump water from aquifers under the properties and build pipelines to bring the water to El Paso. Our importation projects are on hold until 2040 or later, but these projects will be very expensive and planning is already underway.

New strategies will be included when the regional plan is updated. The updates will be completed in 2016.

Visit the water resources section of our website to learn about water planning.