GBRA names company to do desalination study

May 30, 2013 at 12:30 a.m.
Updated May 31, 2013 at 12:31 a.m.

Adding a desalination plant to the Gulf Coast just took a step forward with a study to begin in about a month looking at options.

Bill West, general manager for the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, said the board chose MWH Global, a consulting and engineering firm specializing in wet infrastructure, to conduct the feasibility study.

The Guadalupe River region is outgrowing the water supply, West said, and other options like the desalination plant must be considered.

"One of the benefits of a desalination project is that with the source - the Gulf - you don't have limitations in a drought like you do with surface water. In that way, it would be considered drought resistant," West said.

He expects the study to cost about $2 million, saying the GBRA, Texas General Land Office and possibly the state will share the costs. West said negotiating the price of the study with MWH Global should take 30-45 days.

If constructed, the desalination plant will be one of few outside the Middle East region and could be able to yield up to 250 million gallons of water a day, enough water to supply about 350,000 households in the South Texas region each year, according to a news release.

West said the study will examine multiple factors, including the cost of building a plant, where the plant would be located, how to dispose of brine waste and what fuel source would be used.

Of the 64 firms who pitched proposals to the GBRA in September, West said MWH Global was chosen in part because it can construct both the desalination plant and a power source for the plant.

"For large desalination projects, the Achilles' heel is the power cost - that is what makes desalination so expensive. The projects internationally that have been successful are all associated with a power plant, so you have the common facilities that serve both the power facility and the water facility. And by doing that, you achieve greater efficiencies and hold your cost down," West said, optimistic the study would not show building and operating the plant to be too expensive.

He said the study will also look at how the Eagle Ford Shale production could play into a power plant for the water facility.

The study should take about 20 months to finish. If it proves the plant is feasible, West said, the next steps include finding public and private partners to fund the plant.



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