The University of Texas at El Paso and New Mexico State University have joined efforts in a new research project with the aim of helping residents in the border areas of Texas and New Mexico get clean drinking water that can be made using supplies easily found at hardware stores.
The research group, which is composed of students and professors from both Universities, projects building filtering systems that could cost from less than $50 to $300 and require minimal monthly maintenance, as reported by the El Paso Times.
Border communities, often known as “colonies,” often lack water service, and residents are thus forced to pay to truck in water. This water is used only for washing and bathing, because it is not suitable for drinking, forcing inhabitants to spend even more on bottled water.
Isaac Campos, a doctoral engineering student at UTEP, can relate to those families’ issues. He remembers being told not to drink from the faucet while growing up in Juarez, Mexico. “What we found is that they have an innate fear of drinking from the faucet,” Campos said.
Shane Walker, assistant professor of civil engineering at UTEP, reported the project is dedicated to helping residents in areas that will not have water system within the next five years.
The research team expects the filtration systems to be installed in 10 homes by September in El Paso and New Mexico. The cleanliness of the water will be monitored for six months.
In the water service-lacking community of Hueco Tanks, a family of four can spend up to $60 to fill a 2,500-gallon tank that lasts about two weeks and is used only for washing and bathing. In order to render the water drinkable, families can boil the water or use chlorine and bleach tablets in an attempt to purify it.
Abel Rodriguez’s family spends an average of $180 a month in water for the family and their four horses, chickens, and dogs. Gas money on water supply runs must be added to that sum. The filter system developed by this research team would require a monthly filter replacement that would only cost about $6.
Colonia residents in New Mexico face the threat of metal sediments found in water from shallow domestic wells. Water from wells of 400 feet or less is more likely to contain contaminants, said Karen Nichols, who acts as projects manager for the Lower Rio Grande Public Water Works Authority in New Mexico.
“The deeper community wells are fine. But it’s the shallower wells that tend to be saltier and have more minerals,” Nichols said. “If you are closer to a dairy, there are more dangerous nitrates that could be in the water.”
The project was funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, with a grant of $500,000.