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Isaac’s Story: Clean Water and Resilience in El Paso

Editor’s Note: This is the second of four in our StoryCorps “Spoken From the Heart” series. Check back next week for the next installment, which brings us to Carrollton, Georgia.

Isaac Campos visits one of the El Paso-area colonias. The colonias are small low-income settlements along the U.S.-Mexican border that lack access to piped water.

Home to a culturally and linguistically diverse population, El Paso, Texas, has many reasons to look to the future with optimistic eyes. The city also, however, faces challenges to its long-term resilience: Its harsh desert environment means grappling with high population density in a fragile ecology, climate extremes and variability, and relying on limited transportation and grid connections. Especially troubling is the limited water supply—not to mention the highly politicized border—it shares with its neighbor Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

“Especially troubling is the limited water supply…”

This mixture of hope and challenge led to El Paso’s recent induction into the Rockefeller Foundation-pioneered 100 Resilient Cities network, dedicated to helping cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century.

But resilience-building isn’t a new concept for residents such as Isaac Campos, a 25-year old civil engineering student in the PhD program at the University of Texas at El Paso. Since 2013, Isaac has been involved in a program to bring clean water to the colonias, small low-income settlements along the border with Mexico.

Joined by his girlfriend, Michelle Brown, Isaac shared his story with the award-winning national storytelling project StoryCorps—via a Rockefeller Foundation grant—about how limited access to clean water affected his life growing up, and how he’s now working to improve water quality for others in the community.


  • Isaac Campos stands with his girlfriend Michelle Brown outside the Engineering Building at the University of Texas at El Paso.

*This StoryCorps story was produced by Eve Claxton and Xandra Clark. Photography by Sarah Shatz and music, “Dust in the Sunlight,” by Podington Bear.

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