Pro: Legislation could define management of brackish water

Sara  Sneath By Sara Sneath

Feb. 8, 2015 at 10:58 p.m.
Updated Feb. 8, 2015 at 10:58 p.m.

Although questions remain on how to manage brackish water, the salty, mineral-loaded resource is part of the answer to the ongoing drought.

It is estimated that Texas aquifers hold 2.7 billion acre-feet of brackish groundwater, said Kyle Frazier, Texas Desalination Association executive director. Texas uses about 16 million gallons of water annually, meaning the salty resource could sustain the state for more than 100 years.

"We need a logical, clear-cut way to make use of this resource," Frazier said. "As the state is experiencing this long-term drought, we have to have a way to take care of this issue. Using brackish water would seem a logical step. So, 'No you can't' is really not a very good answer."

House Bill 835, filed by state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, would charge the Texas Water Development Board with modeling aquifers to figure out if harvesting brackish water is feasible without harming freshwater supplies. In doing so, the bill would benefit groundwater districts that want to protect their current water users, Larson said.

The bill also would benefit water developers who don't want to pay for research without the guarantee that a project will come to fruition.

There are 34 brackish water desalination plants in Texas, according to the Texas Water Development Board. The largest plant is in El Paso and can produce up to 27.5 million gallons of fresh water daily, Larson said.

"We're just trying to get it to the point where more communities can access this for their long-term water supply," he said.

Last session, senators were hesitant to take action that they felt would take away regulatory authority from groundwater districts.

"I think they have vetted this issue and have worked during the interim, and I think we're in a better position to get it passed," he said.

But when considered with other bills filed by Larson, it isn't clear that HB 835 would keep brackish water under the jurisdiction of groundwater conservation districts, said Tim Andruss, the general manager of the Calhoun, Victoria, Refugio and Jackson County groundwater conservation districts.

Together with HB 30 and HB 836 the bills appear to make the Texas Water Development Board, a state entity, the primary and possibly final decision-making authority in designating areas where brackish water can be produced and establishing guidelines for production.

"In general those projects that have local impacts on local resources should be regulated by locally elected officials," Andruss said. "I don't want there to be the appearance that there is a resistance to allowing groundwater development. The districts want to see the management of groundwater resources carried out in a way that brings about a long-term sustainability of the resource, while only allowing a level of impact that is considered acceptable by local officials accountable to their residents."

Ultimately, most people with a stake in the debate are concerned about the same thing: Drinking water. And what better way to extend the supply, Larson said, than to use technology available to make use of brackish water.

"Looking at what happened in 2011 and what climatologists are saying is going to happen in Texas in the future we don't have a lot of options," Larson said. "And I hope people embrace the technology and we're able to realize an alternative water supply that right now is nonexistent."

Con: Seawater desal needs more research


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