Dr. Miller and Ph.D. student Ben Smith recently visited collaborator Dr. Zhuping Sheng at the AgriLife Research Center in El Paso, to discuss progress on our joint Managed Aquifer Recharge project. While there, we met his post-doctoral research associate Dr. Shalamu Abudu, his graduate students from Texas A&M and New Mexico Tech, and visiting scholar Dr. Lifei Chen.
While in El Paso, Zhuping was eager to show us its impressive and unique water infrastructure. We started with a tour of the Fred Hervey Wastewater Reclamation Plant, which treats wastewater, up to 12 million gallons per day (MGD) to drinking water standards. The water is then returned to the Hueco Bolson aquifer via injection wells, and the next stop on our tour, infiltration basins, which Zhuping’s group is studying. We then returned to the center, presented the results of our current research, and worked intensely on troubleshooting our model.
The next morning, we toured the Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant, which is rather unique in its inland nature. The facility extracts brackish groundwater from portion of the aquifer normally not suitable for drinking and treats it using advanced reverse osmosis membrane technology. It can send up to 27.5 MGD of very high quality treated water to the distribution system. Currently, the remaining concentrate, which is highly saline, is then re-injected deep into the subsurface for disposal. However, this waste will soon be diverted to a chemical production plant nearby, which will convert it into industrial products, like fertilizers, for sale in the commercial market. Brackish groundwater desalination appears to be the wave of the future for many arid areas too far from a coastline to use seawater. Our final stops on the trip were in the nearby border town of Socorro, TX, where we viewed the agricultural production, checked out the border “wall” and drainage canal, and saw the oldest mission in Texas.