Texas Desal Facts
Desalination: Closing the Gap in Texas Water Needs
Texas is at a critical watershed. The state’s population is projected to more than double, from 21 million to about 46 million by the year 2060, fueling a 27-percent increase in water demand. Meanwhile, water supplies will decrease by 18 percent, primarily because of accumulating sediments in reservoirs and depletion of aquifers.
Desalination offers a viable, drought-proof solution to the state’s water problems: some 2.7 billion AF of brackish groundwater are contained in Texas aquifers, while an inexhaustible supply of seawater can be harvested from the Gulf of Mexico.
Desalination is a proven technology for producing high quality drinking water. Salty water is forced under pressure through fine membranes that trap the salt while collecting pure water. Some 12,400 desal plants already operate around the globe, and more are in the works as the technology of reverse osmosis has developed and costs have declined.
Some 88 Texas facilities already are using desalination to turn salty water into drinking water. Total capacity currently stands at about 138 millions gallons per day (MGD), or about 146,000 AF/year. Brackish groundwater supplies most of these plants, but several use reverse osmosis technology to treat inland surface waters high in chlorides and other salts.
Texas is home to the largest inland brackish groundwater desal facility in the nation. The Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant, a joint project between the City of El Paso and Fort Bliss, is designed to produce 25 million gallons per day of potable water. Previously, the Southmost Regional Water Authority near Brownsville was the largest brackish groundwater desalination facility in Texas, producing 7.5 MGD.
The state’s first seawater desalination facility was pilot tested in Brownsville, and the results are available here. A second seawater desalination facility was piloted on South Padre Island in 2009 by the Laguna Madre Water District. Its report is due in June 2010. Both pilots are the result of the desalination initiative launched in April 2002 by Gov. Rick Perry and managed by the Texas Water Development Board. The Texas Legislature appropriated funding for the pilots and for previous feasibility studies conducted for it and two other potential seawater desal sites. The Legislature also appropriated funding for brackish groundwater desal demonstration projects conducted by the North Cameron Regional Water Supply Corp. and the cities of Kenedy and San Angelo. Additional demonstration projects are pending.
Source: Texas Water Development Board