El Paso Water Utilities and Fort Bliss have agreed to work together in building what officials are saying will be the United State's largest inland desalination plant. The plant will draw brackish water from the Hueco Bolson, an underground aquifer that provides about 40 percent of El Paso's municipal water supply, the utility has announced. Water is currently extracted from the aquifer 25 times faster than it can be replenished, a rate that would deplete the Texas portion of fresh water within 30 years.

A U.S. Geological Survey inventory found that the aquifer contains a vast quantity of brackish water that can be treated and used, and both El Paso Water Utilities and Fort Bliss were planning to build desalination plants. The parties have agreed to jointly pursue plans to build a single 27.5-mgd plant capable of meeting the needs of both entities. A single, larger desalination facility is more economical for both entities, according to general manager Ed Archuleta. It also provides for better management of the aquifer, which has been designated by the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission as a priority ground water management area.

Construction of the plant is scheduled to begin in 2003, and the plant should be complete in late 2004.