Legislators Consider Desalination In Water Package

Jun 18, 2014

Yesterday afternoon the Texas Water Development Board released a draft of the rules for how major water projects across the state are going to be funded. Some of those projects include desalination, which is often considered too expensive to try.

The Water Development Board has outlined $54 billion dollars in water-related projects that the state needs to take on in order to secure our water supply. The projects are roughly divided into three: one third of the money will be for pipelines moving water around the state, another third will go to conservation projects, and another third will be for new sources like reservoirs, groundwater exploration and desalination.

Desalination involves removing salt from seawater or brackish groundwater to make it drinkable. On Monday a joint committee at the Texas Legislature met to talk about the viability of desalination. Here’s Carlos Rubenstein, the chairman of the Water Development Board.

"Texans are looking for long-term drought-proof solutions to provide the citizens with needed water," Rubenstein said. "Certainly desal is within that third. It will be an integral part of meeting our water needs in Texas."

Desal has long been considered too energy intensive and expensive, but with over 600 miles of Texas coastline and an estimated 2.8 billion acre feet of brackish water underground—it’s worth the state’s time to consider it.

But State Senator Juan Hinojosa points out it isn’t clear how much more expensive desalinated water will be than normal ground water.

"To get the proper context it would seem to me you have to compare the cost of desal to the actual cost of water now," Hinojosa said. "How does that compare so I can get a better picture, a better feel for the cost involved of doing desalination projects?"

There are a lot of variables in pricing desalinated water. First of all, utilities have to factor in how far away the water is—whether it’s getting pumped in from the coast or from a distant aquifer. Then, the more salt that’s in the water, the more expensive it is to desalinate. Brackish water—that is, salty water from underground aquifers—can vary in its salinity. The Water Development Board estimates that desalinating brackish groundwater would cost about a third as much as desalinating ocean water.

The draft rules come on the heels of Prop 6, the ballot measure that sets aside $2 billion to start funding water projects. The Water Development Board will hold meetings to get feedback over the summer, finalizing the rules in September.