- Associated Press - Sunday, July 20, 2014

EL PASO, Texas (AP) - A university research project is aimed at helping some border residents in Texas and New Mexico get clean drinking water through filtration systems made out of supplies found at many hardware stores.

Led by a group of students and professors at the University of Texas at El Paso and New Mexico State University, the project builds filtering systems that can be made with supplies that cost anywhere from less than $50 and up to $300 with minimal monthly upkeep, the El Paso Times reported Sunday (http://bit.ly/1rfs14w ).

The goal is to help people living in border communities known as “colonias,” where residents often lack water service and pay to truck in water for washing and bathing. That water is typically not suitable for drinking and families spend even more to buy bottled water.

Isaac Campos, a doctoral engineering student at UTEP, said he can relate to the issues faced by those families but he was in a similar situation while growing up in Juarez, Mexico, where he was told not to drink from the faucet.

“What we found is that they have an innate fear of drinking from the faucet,” Campos said.

The project is funding with a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Shane Walker, assistant professor of civil engineering at UTEP, said the project is aimed at helping residents in areas that won’t have water system within the next five years.

The research team expects to install the filtration systems at 10 homes by September in El Paso and New Mexico and will monitor the cleanliness of the water for six months.

In the community of Hueco Tanks, which doesn’t have water serve, a family of four can spend up to $60 to fill a 2,500-gallon tanks that can last about two weeks.

That water is used for washing and bathing but isn’t drinkable. They can boil the water before drinking or use chlorine and bleach tablets to try to purify it.

Abel Rodriguez’s family spends about $180 a month for enough water for the family and their four horses, chickens and dogs, plus gas money on water supply runs. The filter system developed in the research project would only cost about $6 a month to replace a filter.

For colonia residents in New Mexico, the problem is metal sediments found in water from shallow domestic wells.

Residents with wells of 400 feet or less may find their water more likely to have contaminants, said Karen Nichols, 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.”

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Information from: El Paso Times, http://www.elpasotimes.com