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State rep, GBRA pitch desal to community leaders

By Sara Sneath
Nov. 24, 2014 at 11:15 p.m.
Updated Nov. 25, 2014 at 5:07 a.m.

State Rep. Todd Hunter and the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority encouraged Victoria and Corpus Christi leaders to look to the Gulf for the future of water Monday night.

A seawater desalination plant somewhere between Freeport and Corpus Christi could ease the water needs for 31 counties, said Bill West, GBRA general manager. But with a price tag upward of $400 million, Texas has yet to be sold on a seawater desalination plant.

The cost of saltwater desalination is about twice that of recycling wastewater or building a reservoir and at least four times more than conservation efforts, according to a 2013 study from the California Department of Water Resources.

But while seawater desalination is the costliest water resource - at $1,500 per acre-foot or more - it's the source that doesn't run out, West said.

"Reuse in general is an excellent tool. But there is a limited amount to be reused. And as an entity grows, you can just reuse it so many times before you have to have more water," West said. "In other words, it's a temporary fix."

The pitch Monday night at the University of Houston-Victoria's multipurpose room was largely aimed at industry. Building a sustainable water source would draw economic development, said Dale Fowler, president of Victoria Economic Development Corporation.

The cost of the plant could also be offset by industry users, Hunter said. Hunter told local elected officials that he does not want the household water user to bear the cost burden.

As co-chairman of the joint interim committee to study desalination, Hunter has conducted three hearings about the feasibility of desalination and has heard little opposition, he said. The coastal stretch that would host the plant is ripe with recreational fishing. But Hunter said fishermen and women have been satisfied with new desalination technology, which has better safeguards against harming marine life.

A seawater desalination plant that processed 100 million gallons of water per day would likely cost $300 million to $400 million and take two years to complete, said Greg Neal, project developer with RWL Water, which builds wastewater recycling and desalination plants. But permitting could make the process longer.

California, Florida and Australia have sunk millions of dollars into desalination plants only to come out of a drought and a willingness to pay for processing the water. But West said the level of research and planning that has gone into making a seawater desalination plant a reality in Texas will foster its success.

"There have been a number of false starts because of a lack of technical expertise, but as I said earlier, we have made tremendous gains as far as technology in desal," West said. "We have a much better opportunity at being successful."


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