The Riverside Wildlife Refuge Area
The USIBWC’s commitment to create wetlandhabitat at Rio Bosque stimulated thinking aboutthe possibility of a larger wetland project. InJanuary 1995, the office of the Texas Rio GrandeCompact Commissioner, in conjunction with DucksUnlimited, began circulating a conceptual proposalfor a “Riverside Wildlife Refuge Area.” This areawould include all of Rio Bosque Park and also 250acres of reconfigured sewage oxidation ponds atthe decommissioned Socorro WastewaterTreatment Plant. El Paso #1 and EPWU werecontemplating using these ponds as regulatingreservoirs to capture available water from the RioGrande during periods of higher than normalflows.Under this larger proposal, treated effluent fromthe Bustamante Plant would first be routedthrough Rio Bosque to support wetland habitat,then delivered to the ponds at the Socorro Plantsite, which would also be managed in part tomaximize their value as waterfowl habitat.In the ensuing months, representatives of anumber of agencies and organizations met todiscuss the feasibility of such a project and how toimplement it. The name morphed first to RiversideWetlands Refuge Area, then to Rio BosqueWetland Refuge. A preliminary plan emerged.Ducks Unlimited, in conjunction with the USFWS,began work on engineering designs for the project.Participants in the planning included the RioGrande Compact Commission-Texas, DucksUnlimited, the USIBWC, the USFWS, EPWU, ElPaso #1, the City of El Paso’s Parks andRecreation Department and Planning Department,and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR).Due to uncertainty over when the Socorro Plantponds might be reconfigured as regulatingreservoirs, the preliminary plan focused just on RioBosque. The Socorro Plant site was simply shownas Phase II.The plan involved:
rebuilding an old bend of the Rio Grande thatwound through the park for approximately 2miles;
creating 3 large, shallow basins, totaling 234acres, that could be flooded by diverting waterfrom the old river channel; and
installng water-control structures to carry outsuch diversions.The source of water for the wetlands was to be theRoberto Bustamante Wastewater Treatment Plant.Treated effluent from the plant would bedischarged to the Riverside Intercepting Drain, anEl Paso #1 facility that parallels the Rio Grande onthe west side of the plant. At the northwest cornerof Rio Bosque Park, a water-control structurewould be installed in the drain. Here, the waterwould be diverted into the old river channel withinthe park. After the water had flowed through thepark, it would be returned to the drain.The USIBWC was supportive of this project thatwas much larger than its original commitment tocreate 30 acres of wetland habitat. In July 1995, itsubmitted a mitigation assessment to the U.S.Army Corps of Engineers for planned maintenancedredging on the Rio Grande Rectification Project(the channelized portion of the Rio Grandebetween El Paso and near Fort Quitman). In thatdocument, the USIBWC stated:
The USIBWC believes this coordinated effort is of such vital importance to this area that we are prepared to increase our level of participation in the Rio Bosque Park wetland project to mitigate for the permitted excavation of sediment from the Rectification Project.
Who Would Manage the Site?
In 1996, all of the pieces for a wetland project atRio Bosque were falling into place...with oneexception. None of the partners planning theproject were willing to assume the responsibilityfor long-term management of the site.Ultimately, the University of Texas at El Paso(UTEP) was approached. UTEP saw the potentialenvironmental, research, education, recreationand tourism benefits of the wetland project andagreed to serve as manager of the site. In July1996, Mayor Larry Francis affirmed the City’swillingness for UTEP to assume this role. The Cityand UTEP began drafting a 30-year licenseagreement, which the City Council approved onNovember 5, 1996.