CFO Forum, ARWO Conference Help Spotlight El Paso Water

CFO Forum, ARWO Conference Help Spotlight El Paso Water

The CFO Forum group.

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Serving as host for two recent industry conferences provided El Paso Water with the opportunity to showcase the utility’s world-renowned innovation.

The Water and Wastewater CFO Forum gathered at EPWater’s TecH2O Learning Center April 3-5. The CFO Forum focuses on financial leadership challenges and is targeted toward leaders of innovative, large-sized entities. 

CFO Forum members converge

About 60 members participated in roundtables and listened to a variety of topics such as base charges and affordability, cyber threats to the water sector and procurement strategies. Members also toured the TecH2O and the nearby Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant. 

Marcela Navarrete, vice president of strategic financial and management services, volunteered EPWater as a conference site. 

“After attending a CFO Forum several years ago at an L.A. education center, I mentioned to the organizers that El Paso Water had an education center, too, and it was much larger than L.A.’s,” says Navarrete who will retire from the utility in May. 

One of the roundtable groups.
One of the roundtable groups.

The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, Navarrete says. “I really wanted others across the country to see all the innovative things that EPWater has done, especially CFOs who are not in the engineering or technical world.”

Gilbert Trejo, vice president of operations and technical services, also gave a presentation on EPWater’s future, offering an overview of the utility’s resourceful projects and practices that led to a diverse and sustainable water supply in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert. 

“In El Paso, drought is a way of life,” Trejo says. “Where we live breeds a lot of innovation, too, because every drop of water is precious. Technology allows more recovery of the water we use.”

Since 1985, EPWater’s Fred Hervey Water Reclamation Plant has been reclaiming and treating wastewater to recharge the Hueco Bolson aquifer. The future Aquifer Storage and Recharge Program will take treated Rio Grande water during plentiful years and use it to recharge the Hueco Bolson, with the Enhanced Arroyo Project. The future advanced water purification facility will take reuse one step further.

“We are going to be the first utility in the world to take treated wastewater, treat it to drinking water standards and put it directly into the distribution system,” Trejo says. 

Aside from conservation, Trejo also touched on projects such as water importation, a desalination expansion and a rebate program aimed to incentivize businesses to reduce their water use.

Positive feedback poured in afterward, Navarrete says. “They were especially impressed with Trejo’s presentation about our water supply portfolio. I think they all left very impressed with this city we call home.”

ARWO visits El Paso

Earlier this year, EPWater hosted the Association of Regional Water Organization’s ARWO ’23 conference at the TecH2O Center. ARWO mostly serves regional water and wastewater systems of populations under 100,000. 

About 40 peers from around the country connected over topics such as legislative efforts, rate-setting and customer service. 

EPWater is part of ARWO because of its interests in serving the colonias — unincorporated settlements lacking proper water and wastewater services, says Hector Gonzalez, government affairs manager for EPWater and current president of ARWO. 

“The organization is an advocate for small communities,” Gonzalez says. “The conference provides an opportunity for members to share insights and ideas around key topics; one member may have a connection or a resource that could benefit others.”

About the author: Martha Koester is lead public affairs coordinator at El Paso Water and a veteran newspaper journalist. 

Members of the Association of Regional Water Organization tour the TecH2O Center lab.
Members of the Association of Regional Water Organization tour the TecH2O Center lab.


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