Tuesday, April 30, 2002

Desalinated water from Gulf of Mexico could be handled by pipelines Perry has proposed as part of his Trans Texas Corridor

Perry pitches plan to tap Gulf for water needs

Governor says desalination plant may be solution for thirsty state


April 30, 2002
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2002

Gov. Rick Perry on Monday added his name to the long list of Texas politicians with ideas for quenching the state's growing thirst.

Perry wants Texans to drink the Gulf of Mexico.

In a speech at a San Antonio Water System facility, Perry called for construction of the state's first high-capacity desalination plant to remove salt from seawater to make it drinkable.

"It's time to look for new and untapped sources," he said. "There is no greater potential supply of new water than what splashes along hundreds of miles of Texas coastline, saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico."

Under the Perry plan, about $208 million in tax-exempt private activity bonds would be set aside to finance the private construction of a desalination demonstration project that could process up to 25 million gallons of Gulf water a day.

The goal, Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt said, is to show the commercial viability of a process once viewed as prohibitively expensive.

"The cost is now getting down to where it is similar to what the City of Austin charges a commercial customer, which is about $3 per thousand gallons," Walt said.

Perry said he has asked the Texas Water Development Board, working with regional planning groups and the private sector, to come up with a plan for building " Texas ' very first large-scale coastal desalination plant to produce drinking water using the latest technology."

Desalinated water from the Gulf of Mexico, Perry said, can be the key to the end of generations of battles in Texas about water supplies.

"Though it may be many years, if not decades, before ocean water is a prime source of water for Texans to use, we must begin the groundwork today so that future Texans have an abundant, drought-proof supply of water," he said.

"Some will argue that cost is too great an obstacle," Perry added. "But we must all keep in mind simple economics: The cost of a resource decreases as its supply increases."

Perry's water plan, which also includes conservation measures, was criticized by Democratic gubernatorial candidate and foe Tony Sanchez, who said conservation should be the top priority. Sanchez will be detailing his plan in coming weeks.

"We must conserve this precious resource first, develop new water sources second and protect water quality constantly," he said. "This is the second new costly program Perry has offered this year. When considering new alternatives, such as desalination, we should be sure to first make sure we are exhausting all other cost-effective measures."

The governor said he wants water projects -- including desalination efforts -- to become the priority for the $400 million worth of tax-exempt private activity bonds available each year.

Private activity bonds have been used only on a limited basis for water projects. They are more commonly used for industrial projects. More than $2.2 billion in bonds will be available for projects during the next five years.

Distribution of desalinated water from the Gulf of Mexico could be handled by pipelines Perry has proposed as part of his Trans Texas Corridor plan, a 50-year program that includes highways, pipelines and other infrastructure basics.

Desalination plants provide water to scattered regions around the world, particularly in parts of the Middle East, where freshwater supplies are inadequate. The cost of removing salt from seawater or briny groundwater remains the main obstacle to more widespread use of the well-established technology.

A $110 million desalination plant in Tampa Bay, Fla., scheduled for completion next year, will provide 25 million gallons of drinking water a day. Together with other water supply projects, it is expected to boost the wholesale cost of producing water to as much as $2.50 per 1,000 gallons. The current cost is $1.50 per 1,000 gallons.

The added expense comes from the cost of building the plants and the energy needed to run them. In newer plants, electricity is typically used to run pumps that force water though membranes, such as ceramic material with minuscule holes, that filter out the salt.

Disposal of the highly concentrated salt solution left behind also can pose environmental risks or add to the production costs. If dumped into coastal bays, it will boost salt concentrations and harm aquatic life; options include releasing the liquid in the open ocean or injecting it into deep wells.

In addition to calling for desalination plants, Perry's water plan also includes:

* Use of new technology to find new sources of freshwater and replenish existing supplies.

* Expanded water and sewer infrastructure, and upgrading aging pipe systems.

* Increased use of recycled water for golf courses and crop irrigation.

* More brush cutting to reduce thirsty vegetation competing for water.

Rick Perry: Governor has asked the Texas Water Development Board to look into his plan.

Copyright (c) 2002 Austin American-Statesman

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