Who Runs El Paso Water?

by Rich Wright

From the website of the City of El Paso:

“The [Public Service Board] has complete management and control of the El Paso Water Utilities, the operation and maintaince [sic] of its water and wastewater systems and all of its assets including real estate, approves the budget, and sets rates and fees.”

Can we trust them to run El Paso Water when they can’t even build a coherent paragraph? Let’s all chip in and get them Grammarly.

So I Guess We Know Who to Blame

The seven members of the Public Service Board meet once a month, for which they are compensated $25, the last time I checked. Not very much money for a lot of responsibility.

Or Is It?

Come on. Do you think that PSB has complete management and control of the El Paso Water Utilities? Their rates and real estate? Then why are we paying President and CEO John Balliew an annual salary of $322,312, and the Board Members only get $300 a year?

Apparently the purpose of the Public Service Board is to rubber stamp El Paso Water’s decisions.

Now That’s Uncomfortable

According to its website, Paul Foster and John Balliew are both members of the Executive Committee of the Borderplex Alliance. Do you think maybe Mr. Balliew has drunk the Kool Aid that the Bordplex Alliance serves at its board meetings? Or are he and Mr. Foster just Good Ol’ Boys?

The Board Speaks

In a letter to the El Paso Times, the chair of the Public Service Board Ivonne Santiago defends the Board’s decision to spend $15 million of ratepayers’ money to build Paul Foster a water feature at his new luxury development out in Northeast El Paso.

EPWater recently celebrated the groundbreaking of this multimillion-dollar project in Northeast El Paso that will use stormwater runoff, reclaimed water from the nearby Fred Hervey Water Reclamation Plant and non-peak treated river water to replenish the Hueco Bolson. The project has long been part of El Paso’s 50-Year Water Plan, which projects population and water resource needs for our region.

The Public Service Board, which governs EPWater, is proud to support this award-winning model project, with its many welcome features. The creation of the Enhanced Arroyo Infiltration Facility in the first phase will boast nature trails along an arroyo and a wetland habitat for area wildlife. Once complete, El Pasoans will bike or walk along the 2-mile Enhanced Arroyo while the basin recharges the aquifer. The project is on public land and will be open for all El Pasoans to enjoy.

The second phase will expand the Nevins Pump Station, about 5 miles away, and provide piping to the arroyo, conveying Rio Grande water for aquifer recharge once demand has been met. This project deposits “banked water” to be available for withdrawal later when the Rio Grande is in short supply.

Business as usual.

You’ll remember that this website already griped about this current manifestation of public money for private greed.

El Paso Water has substantially increased rates every year for the last eight years.

Nobody is arguing that we shouldn’t recharge the aquifer. But El Paso Water is already doing that. What they haven’t done yet is build an expensive pipeline to bring a water feature to Paul Foster’s development.

If recharging the aquifer is the goal, why not just put it into the ground where it is?

Why are ratepayers subsidizing a pet project of one of El Paso wealthiest citizens? It’s bad enough that a 50 year, 75% Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone incentivizes Mr. Foster’s sprawl in the El Paso hinterlands. Now the Public Service Board wants to drop a lot more cheddar to make sure Mr. Foster is happy.

It’s just business as usual, Chuco-style.


  1. Direct injection of treated water would be a more effective way of recharging the aquifer but that clearly is not the purpose of this boondoggle. Just another giveaway by the tax/rate payers to Mr. Foster.

  2. My college roommate (San Jose State University), got his B.S in Civil Engineering, and Masters. He eventually opened his own firm in downtown San Francisco. I’ve sent him the information regarding this “recharge” or whatever Professor Santiago wants to call it. As soon as he comes up with the calculations, I’ll post. Meanwhile, I looked up Professor Santiago’s credentials. No offense in getting one’s degree from Puerto Rico but her PhD? MIT? Caltech? Cal Berkley? Purdue? Carnegie Mellon?….All No. New Mexico State? Yes. In addition, out of the 20 Engineering Professors at UTEP’s Civil Engineering School, she is one of three who are Associate Professors. The rest are full Proffesors. No knocks on UTEP, but they are ranked #179 in Engineering in the USA. (SJSU is #81). And, in regards to the Borderplex, Rich, you didn’t go all the way as to who else is on this “august” Board. Juan Carlos Bermudez, whose grandfather basically invented the Maquila concept. The Bermudez family are “movers and shakers” in Juarez and big buds with the De La Vega Familia of Juarez, whose daughter happens to be Alejandra De La Vega, Paul Foster’s wife. Josh HUNT, Stanley Jobe, Don Margo, (Dee & Adair Margo’s son). Bill Sander’s, owner of the largest REIT in El Paso, etc. Kelly Tomblin, CEO of JP Morgan/Chase owned El Paso Electric. There are a few others sprinkled in there, but I would assume everyone operates under the “You scratch my back and I will scratch your back” code of ethics. This “water diversion” to replenish El Paso’s water supply is really, all Smoke & Mirrors. One of the sales pitches for Foster’s development is to have a “lazy river,” aka, a mini Riverwalk, complete with walking and bike paths. ALL in the MIDDLE of a Desert! Professor Santiago, in her column to the EP Times, said that this project is an “Award Winning Model.” I’m not sure what award or model was used, but would be curious to find out who or what earned this “Award Winner.” Not to finish on a negative note, but a small piece of trivia. Once Prohibition hit, Waterfill & Frazier, owned by Mary Dowling and whose master Distiller, Joseph Beam (of the Jim Beam family), moved lock, stock and barrel + whiskey distillery from Kentucky to Juarez. Their Mexican partner? The Bermudez family…..

    1. Not sure what Board you refer to. The PSB consists of Mayor Oscar Leeser, Ivonne Santiago (Chair), Bryan Morris, Charlie Intebi, Kristina Mena, Lisa Saenz, Stefanie Block Uribarri. They are nominated by a selection committee that nominates three candidates for a vacancy that are then voted by CC.

      So, yes the Usual Suspects can jigger the process in favor of their nominees via their stooges on CC but that has been changing lately. My hope is that someday we will get candidates who favor the environment and open space policies, but I won’t hold my breath until then.

      You wrote a good synopsis above. Why don’t you submit it to the Times as a rebuttal to Santiago’s op-ed? The Times has published my letters that in the past have been highly critical of their stand on why we need a Vampire Class to suck our blood.

    2. Also, NMSU is the home of the NM Water Research Institute https://nmwrri.nmsu.edu/ that is NM’s center for water study and policy. They host the annual NM Water Conference in the Fall for more than 60 years. I attended it last year and it was very informative to me as a water activist though it tended to “death by PowerPoint” and could have used more interactive workshops. But I’ll be back this year as it is the “can’t miss” event for networking water research and policy in the region.

  3. Once upon a time the PSB was widely admired and actually known for it’s fair and impartial direction, not to mention it’s wise resources. Then, after we changed from a strong Mayor form of City Government, things began to change for the worse. First, the City stopped ‘carrying the water’ for flood control and storm drain maintenance (used to be part of the annual City budget), and pushed it onto the PSB, which naturally passed it right along to rate payers (us). So, that is part of why our monthly bills are so high, and the City has had the opportunity to put the money they used to use for our good into those toys for the rich and powerful who have by the short and curlies.

  4. To: Jerry K…..Re read Rich’s original post above, and click on the links he provided as to the El Paso Borderplex…It is under “Now That’s Uncomfortable. The City also doesn’t know how to spell maintenance…..As to the El Paso Times opinion piece, I am not sure if they would even allow me. Not part of the Oligarchy. ELP Times circulation: 35,000 per day during the week = 4% of El Paso County’s population. Sunday’s is 117,15 or 13.3% of the County Population. The AVERAGE age of a newsprint reader nationwide is 58 years old. 40% of the El Paso Population is under the age of 25, and with a poverty rate of 24%, I’m not sure if that average age skews higher. I am with you, why doesn’t El Paso Water just directly inject water into the ground/aquifer/reservoir. Perhaps you can ask your contacts at the NM Water Research as their thoughts or calculations on how creating a mini Riverwalk is helpful vs your idea. I didn’t mean to denigrate NMSU, let’s just be honest who wrote this opinion piece and their level of academic standing at UTEP.

  5. Rich, my roommate got back to me and he wasn’t able to provide the evaporation data. Too many variables, such as temperature, humidity, wind speed, distance, etc. He did direct me to a bunch of sites regarding water evaporation. Which, honestly, he being an Engineer and me having a Bachelor of Science in Advertising (later selling pacemakers), I couldn’t really get into. However, on Average, a 400 ft. swimming pool loses 10,000 gallons of water per year. I will leave it out to your engineering inclined readers to try and figure out Water Loss. Keep up the great work!

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