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Seawater Desalination in Texas


Summary of Achievement

Governor Perry has long recognized the vital importance of adequate water supplies to the prosperity and economic well-being of the state and its residents.  In 2002, he introduced his vision for developing a new, abundant and drought-proof water supply by desalinating seawater.  With funding from the Legislature and the cumulative efforts of the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) and its partners, Governor Perry’s vision is close to becoming a reality.

The Challenge

It is clear that as Texas population and water needs increase, access to adequate fresh water supplies will be a critical issue in many areas of the state.  The population of Texas is expected to double over the next 60 years and the demand for water in the state will increase by 27 percent to about 22 million acre-feet in 2060, according to the 2007 State Water Plan prepared by the Texas Water Development Board.  Due to declines in various sources, the Board projects in the State Plan that to meet the 22-million acre-feet level an additional supply of about 8.8 million acre-feet will be needed.  In short, by 2060, the state will have about a 40 percent shortfall unless adequate new supplies are developed.

To meet the challenge of developing a drought-proof water supply, Governor Perry urged development of a large-scale plant to turn seawater into potable water. “To me it is not a matter of whether saltwater will one day be used as an abundant source for public use, but when and where.  As a people, we must have the courage to look into the future and invest today for a better tomorrow.  There is no greater untapped source of water than the ocean water that Texas can easily access,” Gov. Perry said.

Action / Initiative

In 2002, Governor Perry directed TWDB to recommend a large-scale seawater desalination demonstration project.  The board responded by identifying and recommending Brownsville, Corpus Christi and Freeport as sites with the greatest potential for development, and in 2003, the 78th Texas Legislature directed TWDB to use the process to develop cost-effective water supplies. By 2004 TWDB had conducted feasibility studies in Brownsville, Corpus Christi and Freeport, and in 2005 the 79th Texas Legislature appropriated $3.2 million to TWDB for pilot plant studies and other desalination demonstration efforts. In 2006, TWDB awarded $231,000 in grants to the Laguna Madre Water District to implement an ocean intake pilot plant study in South Padre Island, which began in 2007. Additionally, in 2006 TWDB awarded $1.34 million to the Brownsville Public Utilities Board to conduct a pilot plant study at the Lower Rio Grande Regional Seawater Desalination Pilot Plant, which began testing four alternative pretreatment technologies and two reverse-osmosis membranes in 2007.


The Outcome

Governor Perry’s vision for seawater desalination in Texas is close to becoming a reality. In light of the substantial progress made by the Lower Rio Grande Regional Seawater Desalination pilot plant study, it is clear that a large-scale seawater desalination demonstration plant can be built within a few years. However, this is dependent on the availability and timing of state financial support to supplement the funding that the Brownsville Public Utilities Board will apply to the project.

The reality of a large-scale seawater desalination plant in the Texas Gulf Coast is within the state’s grasp. Operated and maintained by the Brownsville Public Utilities Board, the plant would supply a significant amount of high-quality water to the state’s fastest growing metropolitan areas.

The Legislature noted the growing importance of and strides made in seawater desalination by designating, March 7, 2007 as Texas Desalination Day, encouraging ongoing investment in the practical applications of desalination technology in the state.  As Governor Perry said, “Large desalination projects require large investments that are forward-looking. Why wait until the need is greatest? Leadership is about getting ahead of problems, and that’s what we must do when it comes to water.”

Four regional water planning groups have recommended seawater desalination in the 2007 State Water Plan.  They project that by the year 2060, about 138,000 acre-feet per year of desalinated seawater will become available for use.