By 1st Lt. Vanessa Dudley, 1st Battalion, 361st Engineer Regiment, 5th Armored Brigade, Division West Public AffairsOctober 21, 2013
EL PASO, Texas -- The 1st Battalion, 361st Engineer Regiment, Task Force Redhawk, 5th Armored Brigade, Division West, toured the Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant as part of an event hosted by the El Paso Society of American Military Engineers Post, recently.
TF Redhawk used the opportunity as a leader development program event. Civilians, Soldiers and Sailors from 1st Armored Division, William Beaumont Army Medical Center, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Joint Task Force North, and engineers from the El Paso area also participated in the tour. The plant, which is capable of producing 27.5 million gallons of water a day, was constructed in 2007 and uses the process of reverse osmosis to provide El Paso with another source of drinking water.
"The tour was such a unique and interesting opportunity to see how we can get water from the desert," said Sgt. 1st Class Jacob Wessel, a Redhawk observer controller/trainer. "It was also a chance to see the amount of Engineering that is required to support our everyday lives."
The tour was given by Art Ruiz, the plant superintendent, who previously served in the Navy producing water for his respective ship. He then moved to the civilian sector, where he has spent 27 years working in public utilities.
"I think educating the public is a very big thing and I enjoy it greatly, "said Ruiz. "We are trying to conserve what little water we have, not just for us, but also for our children and future generations."
Throughout the tour, attendees were taught how the plant takes brackish water from the Hueco Bolson, which spans across parts of Texas, New Mexico, and Chihuahua, Mexico, and turns it into drinking water through a complex process. The water is first ran through a strainer, which removes unwanted sand or gravel, and then chemicals are added to ensure pH levels are up to standard.
The water is again filtered to remove small particles and then pressurized and strained through pressure vessels that rid the water of unwanted salts or contaminates. Lastly, a disinfectant is put in the water and is sent on its way to be used in El Paso. The "concentrate", which is the water, salt, and contaminates left over from the process, are pumped to a site that is located 3,500 feet below the ground.
"This was an excellent opportunity for us to look at the water plant, which guarantees the sustainability of El Paso and is the main reason Fort Bliss was able to expand," said Lt. Col. Patrick Hogeboom, TF Redhawk commander and president of the El Paso Society of American Military Engineers Chapter. "The desalination plant enables current and future generations to thrive in El Paso and the beautiful Chihuahuan desert."