The Texas General Land Office is looking to follow Brownsville's lead in converting brackish water to desalinated drinking water to meet the state's growing thirst for new water resources while seeking a high return on public education investments.
Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson recently proposed using money from the state's $25.6 billion Permanent School Fund to finance potentially profitable desalination projects in Central Texas, similar to the Southmost Regional Water Authority's desalination plant which removes salts and solids from water below Brownsville's surface.
State Representative Rene Oliveira, chairman of the House Committee on and Land and Resource Management and long a proponent of developing desalination of both brackish and seawater, believes the idea has merit, especially if it will benefit the Permanent School Fund which provides money for Texas public schools. Oliveira met this week with GLO staff regarding the desalination investment issue. He offered the assurance that Lower Southmost Regional Authority and Brownsville Public Utilities Board desalination experts are available to assist as the projects might develop.
"We should be moving as quickly as possible to develop new water resources in Texas. Our state's population is rapidly increasing and we are in the middle of a long drought," said Oliveira whose committee has oversight of the General Land Office, the School Land Board and the Permanent School Fund. "The commissioner's proposal is creative. It would be a sound investment for the School Fund while meeting water needs in a rapidly growing part of the state. I would also like to see further development of desalination facilities at the Port of Brownsville given our codependence on the Rio Grande with Mexico."
The General Land Office manages a portion of Permanent School Fund investments and only invests gas and oil royalties from public lands in infrastructure, energy, and real estate.
Currently, there are 32 Texas municipal desalination facilities that use brackish groundwater as a source, with a 70 million gallons a-day capacity. El Paso's Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant, which can clean 27.5 million gallons a day, is the state's largest, according to the Austin American Statesman.
The state's South Central Texas regional water plan, which includes Hays County near Austin, projects three brackish groundwater desalination projects atop the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer by 2060, at a cost of $378 million, providing up to 42,220 acre-feet, or 13.8 billion gallons, of water a year, the newspaper paper reported.
The state plan estimates charging $1,245 per acre-foot for the desalinated water. The San Antonio Water System projects producing about 10 million gallons daily from a desalination plant it is constructing near San Antonio within four years.
The Lower Colorado River Authority, which provides water to much of Central Texas is also seeking new water sources. It has estimated that it would cost approximately $1,120 for each acre foot of water to produce desalinated groundwater, and a similar cost to have groundwater shipped in. Conversely, getting more from of available water resources may cost $250 to $450 per acre-foot through aggressive conservation, the American Statesman also reported.
"If we can get a good return on the investment of state school dollars while developing new drinking water infrastructure, we can accomplish two positive things through one action," said Oliveira. "We know we will eventually need the water in Texas, so the sooner we take action on expanding the use of desalination technology in Texas the better."
Contact: Anthony Gray
855 West Price Road