Fish On! Water Utility Goes Angling for Charity

At El Paso Water Utilities, an annual fishing derby at the plant's retention ponds has raised thousands of dollars for charity.
Fish On! Water Utility Goes Angling for Charity
Since 2009, El Paso Water Utilities has held at least one annual fishing derby at its Jonathan Rogers Water Treatment Plant. The events raise money for local charities and give anglers a rare chance to enjoy a great resource. Photo credit: El Paso Water Utilities

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Most people would agree water treatment facilities do plenty of good for their communities. But in El Paso, Texas, fishermen are especially grateful.

Since 2009, El Paso Water Utilities has held at least one annual fishing derby at its Jonathan Rogers Water Treatment Plant. The events raise money for local charities and give anglers a rare chance to enjoy a great resource. As a result, the fishing days have become popular in the community and with EPWU employees.

“I think it is really a fun event that kind of brings employees and the community together,” says Ruben Rodriguez, water supply manager, who has organized the derbies the past two years. “It's really for a good cause, and people always look forward to it.”

Treatment season
Rodriguez says the treatment plant brings in water from the Rio Grande River and holds it in five ponds for sedimentation and storage before it goes through the treatment plant. The surface water treatment season correlates with the agricultural irrigation season, which is typically March through September in a nondrought year. Water only flows through the river and becomes available for treatment during this period, when it has been released from Elephant Butte and Caballo lakes.

After the treatment season, the ponds are cleaned and some are drained. Drained water in need of sand or silt removal is pumped into the remaining ponds. Water that remains in the ponds — about half the storage capacity — is stored in case of emergency demand.

Of course, many fish — carp, crappies, white bass, largemouth bass and others — are drawn into the ponds when water is brought in from the river. In previous years, when the ponds were cleaned or drained, many of those fish went to waste.

In 2009, however, the utility figured out how to use that resource while raising money for charities, and the first fishing derby was born. Rodriguez said EPWU charged $8 per fishing rod at the inaugural one-day event and proceeds went to the United Way. The fishing day was actually part of the utility's large annual United Way fundraising effort.

Fishing for a cause
The first couple of events were relatively small, but Rodriguez said word about the great fishing opportunities soon spread. The derbies mark the only time of year the public can fish at the plant's ponds.

“The word has gotten out,” he says. “It's kind of grown throughout the years. The place was pretty much welcomed as another fishing hole. There will be good catches or bad catches like anywhere else, but the fish will certainly be put to good use.”

EPWU now tries to hold at least two fishing days per year — one in spring before the treatment season and one in autumn after the season. In 2014, the utility held two spring events and another in September. The fall event still benefits the United Way, and the spring fishing days raise money for a local charity selected each year by the utility. Previous beneficiaries include a local rescue mission, Operation Santa Claus and the Children's Grief Center of El Paso. Each 2014 event attracted about 200 to 250 anglers. Combined, the 2014 derbies raised more than $13,000.

Building teamwork
Rodriguez says the fishing days also provide another benefit: EPWU employee bonding and camaraderie. Typically, 10 to 15 employee volunteers run each event. About six volunteers use golf and utility carts to shuttle anglers and equipment throughout the 100-acre plant site. Four more serve as cashiers at the plant entrance, and other volunteers look after people and pick up trash. Before the event, other volunteers produce flyers, arrange for portable toilets and contribute in other ways.

“The volunteers have always been very forthcoming and dedicated to the cause,” Rodriguez says. “They're always very excited to help out. [Employees] meet with each other in a different setting. It kind of builds that nice bond between different sections. People really enjoy it, I think. There's some work involved, of course, but it's always for a good cause.”

Rodriguez says EPWU intends to continue holding at least one fishing event per year, but water conditions and the treatment season dictate when those can occur. In recent years, prolonged drought in Texas has presented challenges.

“What holds us back is the availability of water,” he said. “We try to hold the water in there, but the biggest concern is treating the water. With the drought, it's gotten a little trickier keeping water in there. Basically, we do [the events] when our treatment season is over. In typical years, when we don't have the issue of the drought, we'll treat water between March and October because water is actually available in the river those months. But because of the drought, our allotment season has gotten a lot shorter, so we might only have two months with water in the river. This past year was three and a half months or so.”

As of January, the ponds had sufficient water, so Rodriguez is looking forward to more fishing events in 2015 and beyond.

“I think it just goes along with the people in our profession,” he says. “People do this as kind of a service. It's not just a job. And [the derbies] go along with the whole mentality of the people who work here. I really enjoy it.”



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