Is desalination Texas’ water future?

This image provided by the San Diego County Water Authority shows an artist rendering of a proposed desalination plant, center right, superimposed over an aerial photograph, in Carlsbad, Calif. The proposed plant will be the Western Hemisphere’s largest desalination plant. (AP Photo/San Diego County Water Authority)
This image provided by the San Diego County Water Authority shows an artist rendering of a proposed desalination plant, center right, superimposed over an aerial photograph, in Carlsbad, Calif. The proposed plant will be the Western Hemisphere’s largest desalination plant. (AP Photo/San Diego County Water Authority)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Faced with a never ending drought and flood of new transplants, Texas is taking a hard look at the costs and viability of water desalination.

There are currently more than 100 desalination plants in the state, 40 of them tied to municipalities.

They remove the salt content from brackish ground or underground water. Removing salt from seawater such as in the gulf is a far more costly proposition at this point, twice the cost of treating brackish water, but may be the ultimate answer.

“We have to change our priorities,” says Kyle Frazier, Executive Director of the Texas Desalination Association. “As long as our cable bill is more expensive than our water bill our priorities are screwed up. 71 percent of the earth is water, and 97 percent of that is undrinkable saltwater.”

El Paso now has the largest inland desalination plant to treat brackish water in the world, producing 27 million gallons of potable water a day.

San Antonio is now building an even larger desalination plant.

Texas, a vast mosaic of different regions, rainfalls and topography, mostly relies on treating freshwater from rivers and lakes. But the continuing drought hinders that.

“We may find it’s not as easy to put in new reservoirs and wells as in the past,” said Dr. Robert Mace of the Texas Water Development Board points out. “If those options come off the table, desalination becomes more viable.”

Ultimately each region of Texas will have to deal with the water crisis in its own way.

“Just the cost of building a pipeline and pumping water distances up the hill is very expensive,” said geologist Michael Young with the UT Bureau of Economic Geology. “So the solutions to water shortages tend to be local solutions.”

A special task force on desalination will hold its first statewide hearing on desalination on Monday, June 16, at the Capitol Annex building and the public is invited.

Water is the lifeblood of Texas, fueling our industry, nourishing our crops and livestock, sustaining our households and providing recreation. Whatever solutions the future holds, the costs will be going up no matter what.

Right now desalination appears to be hostage to the cost of technology and the willpower of people.

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