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GBRA moves forward with plans for desalination plant

By by Dianna Wray - DWRAY@VICAD.COM
Aug. 29, 2012 at 3:29 a.m.
Updated Aug. 30, 2012 at 3:30 a.m.

James Murphy, executive manager of water resources and utility operations with the GBRA, speaks to a roomful of engineers on Wednesday about building a desalination plant on the Texas Coast. The GBRA is conducting a $2 million feasibility study.

SEGUIN - Someday, there will be a plant nestled along the Texas coastline turning salty seawater into drinking water.

That's what James Murphy, the executive manager of water resources and utility operations with the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, hopes.

More than 60 engineers from various firms gathered in the GBRA Annex on Wednesday afternoon to hear about the background of the desalination project and the GBRA's plans for their proposed desalination plant on the Gulf of Mexico.

Engineers from 68 firms that helped build desalination plants on the edge of the Red Sea, Australia and across the country have expressed interest in the project.

"Our region, the Guadalupe River, has enough water for now, but it doesn't have enough for the future, and droughts could reduce the reliability of what we have now so we want to look at the one verifiable reliable source of water for the future," Murphy said.

Murphy took the engineers through the state of water in Texas. How the state doesn't have a cohesive water management plan, how the state's population growth is predicted to outstrip its water supply in the coming decades.

Engineer Fred Blumberg said his firm is eager to be a part of this project study, the first steps of making the idea of building the largest desalination plant on the Gulf Coast into a reality.

"This is an important project," said Blumberg, a former GBRA employee, now a member of the firm Arcadis U.S. Inc. "This can give us a reliable supply of water as demand increases."

Calhoun County is the tentative front-runner as a site for the plant, but Murphy acknowledged that they are looking for a location that will make the most economic sense and leave as little environmental footprint as possible. Thus, the possible locations range along GBRA's territory, from Port Aransas and Corpus Christi to Freeport.

The feasibility study will cost about $2 million and will take two years to complete, Murphy said. Once the study is completed, Murphy said construction could begin within five years.

This isn't the first attempt to build a desalination plant on the Texas coast. A pilot project in Brownsville was put on hold in 2008 after it was found that turning Gulf seawater into drinking water was feasible but was also expensive.

While desalination of seawater was previously deemed too costly, the technology has gotten significantly more affordable in recent years, Murphy said - another reason the GBRA is moving forward with its plan to build a plant capable of producing 25 million to 250 million gallons of water per day.

The GBRA plant would be the largest desalination plant in the country if it is built, Murphy said.

The engineers were told to submit their proposals for the feasibility study by Sept. 12.

Murphy said GBRA officials will sort through the proposals, whittling down the applicants to a few front-runners by sometime in October.

This is all being coordinated with an eye toward the start of the next legislative session, Murphy said. They want to be able to show state Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, something concrete that will get lawmakers' attention and help get the political support that will be needed to push it through, Murphy told the audience.

"We think this project has some legs to it, that it's got some real possibilities," GBRA Manager Bill West said.

West noted that the project would require some start-up money from the state, but the federal Department of Energy has been issuing reports showing concern over the conflict between the needs for power and water for the past 15 years, West said. He added they believe the Department of Energy will be willing to significantly contribute funding for the project.

"If we can get this feasibility study to say this'll work, we can take it to the Department of Energy and the Department of Energy has the money," West said.



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