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Published by: shawon_bd on Mar 27, 2010
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Desalination involves removing the salt from water to make it drinkable. There are several ways to do it, and it is nota new idea at all. Sailors have been using solar evaporation to separate salt from sea water for at least severalthousand years. Most of the world’s 1,500 or so desalination plants use distillation as the process, and there are alsoflash evaporation and electrodialysis methods. All these methods are very expensive, so historically desalination hasonly been used where other alternatives are also very expensive, such as desert cities. However, an exploding worlddemand for potable water has led to a lot of research and development in this field and a new, cheaper process hasbeen developed that involves heating sea water and forcing it through membranes to remove the salt from the water.The process is even cheaper if the desalination plant can be located next to an electrical power plant that is alreadyheating sea water to use for cooling the electrical generating units. Even so, it is still more expensive than otheralternatives, but it is indeed becoming more competitive and could become a viable alternative to Edwards water.There is also a lot of interest in using local, brackish groundwaters as a source for desalination instead of ocean water.Such waters typically have only one-tenth the salinity of sea water, so desalination can be accomplished more easilyand transportation is less of an issue.In April 2000 the Texas Water Development Board approved a $59,000 grant to the Lavaca-Navadid River Authority todetermine if building a $400 million plant on Matagorda Bay at Point Comfort would be economically andenvironmentally feasible. There is a power plant at this location that could supply the heated sea water for themembrane process. The study was released two months later and the cost rose to $755 million, but this included thecost of transmission facilities to San Antonio. The study estimated that a 50-50 mix of desalinated water and watertreated by other conventional methods could be delivered to San Antonio users for about $2.80 per thousand gallons,
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compared to a current cost of $1.36 per thousand gallons. A similar plant being constructed in Tampa, Florida willraise customer’s water bills by about $7.50 a month.(1),(2) A major advantage of desalination of ocean water is that water is always available even in the most severe droughts.The main environmental concerns of this project are increased salinity levels in Matagorda Bay and the fate of planktonand tiny sea creatures in the water removed for the process. Supporters say it won’t raise the salinity levelappreciably and that organisms can be vacuumed out and replaced into the ocean. No one knows yet how this projectwould be funded. It’s possible San Antonio could choose to construct its own transmission facilities and also use thepipelines to bring water to San Antonio from other sources.(3),(4) On April 29 2002 Texas Governor Rick Perry visited San Antonio and announced his intention to push for construction of a 25 mgd desalination plant on the Texas coast. He said "Though it may be many years, if not decades, before oceanwater is a prime source of water for Texas to use, we must begin the groundwork today so that future Texans have anabundant, drought-proof supply of water."(5)In November 2002 the South Central Texas Regional Water Planning Group endorsed a proposal by the San AntonioWater System, the San Antonio River Authority, and the San Patricio Municipal Water District to build and operate adesalination plant that could produce eight million gallons per day by 2006. The project would include a plant to purifybrackish groundwater in San Patricio county and another plant to purify ocean water. Initially it would not deliverwater to San Antonio but would free up surface water in the Nueces River Basin now used by the city of Corpus Christi,thereby reducing pressure on the Edwards to meet those needs. Corpus Christi has it's own competing proposal tobuild it's own desalination plant and then sell surface water rights to San Antonio. SAWS indicated it is not interestedin a customer relationship with Corpus.(6)In April of 2004, the city of Brownsville dedicated its new Southmost Regional desalination plant, which is designed toturn brackish groundwater from the Gulf Coast Aquifer into drinking water. The plant cost $21.1 million and has acapacity of 7.5 million gallons per day. It is the city's first drought-proof source of water. By 2004, there were morethan 100 desalination plants in Texas, all of them treating either brackish groundwater or surface water. Some of thelarger facilities are in Sherman (26.4 mgd), Lake Granbury (14.2 mgd), and Fort Stockton (12.7 mgd). El Paso WaterUtilities is planning a 29 mgd facility, and the San Antonio Water System is also studying the feasibility of withdrawingand treating saline water from the Edwards Aquifer.(7) In August of 2004, Governor Rick Perry gave the concept of desalination another shot in the arm by delivering aspeech in which he claimed that membrane technologies "will change the world forever". He suggested that Texasshould lead the nation by building the country's first large-scale desalination plant.(8)In April of 2006 the city of Brownsville began construction on a pilot-scale ocean water desalination plant that willproduce about 100,000 gallons per day. The main purpose of the facility will be to determine how to develop afull-scale plant and what financial incentives will be needed.(9)Also in 2006, the San Antonio Water System began tests at several sites to evaluate the feasibility of constructing aplant to desalinate brackish water from the Wilcox Aquifer. One site in Atascosa county seemed especially promising,and SAWS set a goal to have an operating facility by early 2011 that could produce up to 25 million gallons per day.(10)In August of 2007, the city of El Paso opened the Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant, which will eventually supply27.5 million gallons of drinking water daily. Officials said it is the largest desal plant outside of a coastal area.Constructed at a cost of $87 million, it draws brackish groundwater from underneath Fort Bliss. Costs were expected tobe about $1.65 per thousand gallons.(11)In October of 2007, under intense local pressure from area residents, the board of the Evergreen Underground WaterDistrict voted to rescind an agreement it had made with SAWS to regulate and permit the production and export of brackish Wilcox water. Under the agreement, the district was to have issued permits to SAWS after the utility showedthe water was available and production was not likely to effect freshwater supplies from the the overlying Carrizoaquifer. If an impact occurred, SAWS would have to limit or stop production. In return, SAWS agreed to abandon plansto pump fresh water.(12)In January of 2008, a citizens panel endorsed the San Antonio Water System plan for desalination, but it noted thatlocal opposition may turn out to be a bigger obstacle than any technological challenges. SAWS Board Chairman AlexBriseno said SAWS had not been proactive in doing outreach to the communities involved, but "We don't intend to justgo to a place and take its water. The goal is to have a win-win situation." Some of the benefits to the local communitycould include providing treated water or economic development funds.(13).
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