San Antonio success story: SAWS brackish desalination facility 2013

San Antonio success story: SAWS brackish desalination facility

As populations grow and water supplies dwindle in many parts of Texas, communities are looking for innovative solutions to provide their citizens with the water they need. One of those solutions is desalination. Desalination is the process of removing dissolved salts from water so that it can be used as fresh water. Of the 250 desalination plants across the country, 38 are in Texas.

In fact, a new brackish groundwater desalination plant is under construction now in south Bexar County. It's a facility San Antonio Water System (SAWS) is building that utilizes $109.5 million in Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) funds. The project is a recommended strategy in the State Water Plan.

"San Antonio has an extraordinary track record for developing sources of water-our population has grown 67% over the past 20 years, but we're using the same amount of water," says Esther Harrah, SAWS Manager of Desalination Engineering. "Because our primary water supply is highly regulated, we were looking at ways to expand our water portfolio."

SAWS provides water service to a population of 1.3 million through 358,000 water connections.

According to Harrah, SAWS' desalination facility will be collocated with an aquifer storage and recovery facility (a process that involves injecting water into an aquifer and pumping it out when needed). It will include 13 production wells that use the Wilcox Aquifer and a deep well injection for disposal of the concentrate. A reverse osmosis water treatment facility will be constructed with 11 miles of pipeline.

Beyond developing a new source of water, SAWS is making the most of this desalination project. It will also house a pilot research and test facility used by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and University of Texas-San Antonio. Harrah hopes that other universities will be interested in teaming to conduct research. In addition, the public will be able to tour and see the desalination process, including the membranes that separate salts from water, pumps, equipment and control center.

"It makes sense, from a water management standpoint, that we develop another resource," relates Harrah. "When the final stage of project is completed in 2026, we hope we'll have provided enough water for future generations."

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