U.S. Water News Online
El Paso, Texas -- The El Paso Water Utilities Public
Service Board (PSB) voted recently to file suit against the El Paso
County Water Improvement District No. 1 (Irrigation District) for
refusal to honor a 1992 agreement obligating it to supply water to
the PSB in exchange for treated sewage effluent. According to PSB
General Manager Ed Archuleta, the agreement provides most of the
water needed to meet the El Paso's growing water demand for the next
The lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment of the 1992 agreement's
validity, as well as clarification of the district's delivery
obligations under other existing contracts with the PSB, and an
injunction to compel district performance under these contracts.
Alternatively, if the district cannot be compelled to supply
water, the suit seeks damages of up to $98 million for 1) the $5
million paid as the local share of the American Canal Extension, 2)
the costs of sewage treatment plant modifications that were made to
discharge effluent into the American Canal, 3) the costs of expansion
of water treatment facilities that were made to treat the additional
water required under the Memorandum of Understanding, and 4) the cost
of replacing the water supply.
The agreement in dispute, called a "Memorandum of Understanding,"
allows the PSB to obtain one acre-foot of Rio Grande water for each
two acre-feet of sewage effluent discharged into the American Canal
from its Haskell Street and Northwest Wastewater Treatment Plants.
The PSB invested $5 million in the American Canal Extension in return
for additional water from the district.
The American Canal Extension saves up to 30,000 acre-feet per year
of water that would otherwise be lost to seepage.
The American Canal Extension was completed in March 1999. After
supplying the PSB with water under the Memorandum of Understanding in
1999, the district refused to do so in 2000. A crisis was narrowly
averted last summer when the district agreed to make the water
available to the PSB under a short-term contract that ran from Aug. 1
to Oct. 15, 2000.
The Public Service Board has been involved in negotiations with
the district for many years for a new water supply contract. Under
the proposed contract, the district required the PSB to pay $193.40
per acre-foot of water. (The PSB pays $15 per acre-foot under prior
contracts, the same as paid by agriculture.) The proposed contract
would also have resolved disagreements between the PSB and the
district over the 1992 Memorandum of Understanding.
Although the PSB agreed to the proposed contract's price to
purchase water, negotiations ended when the district refused to
provide an exclusive right to purchase water for longer than a
one-year period, along with other provisions requested by the PSB.
The contract would have ensured El Paso customers access to
additional river water as a source for drinking water.
The PSB relies upon water supplied by the district for roughly 50
percent of its current water supply. Without the two-for-one effluent
exchange, the PSB will run out of treated Rio Grande water before the
end of the summer and be unable to meet customers' demands. The
district's failure to honor the Memorandum of Understanding would
force the PSB to declare a water emergency and impose mandatory water
use restrictions, district officials said.
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