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San Antonio going for desalinization

Another thing we’ll be seeing more of in the near future.

The San Antonio Water System is now pumping salt water in southern Bexar County as it looks for new water sources for the city.

Tuesday the utility gave a tour of one of its first production wells in the middle of pastureland that will tap the lower Wilcox Aquifer.

Because it is an expensive new project going after a new source, it will be watched closely by residents for possible impact to local water supplies and by state officials for its potential to set an example of a new water source for Texas.

The $145 million project is expected to produce 10 million gallons a day by 2016, when the desalination plant and pipelines are complete. That’s about 5 percent of San Antonio’s daily demand, according to SAWS.

Anyone know what the verb form of “desalinization” is? I’m not sure, but for what it’s worth “Desalinating” doesn’t trigger Chrome’s spell-checker, so I’ll go with that. The total amount this plant will eventually generate is relatively small, but this is just phase one. They anticipate expanding it to produce up to 25 million gallons per day if all goes well. This also has the benefit of not causing any legal disputes with neighboring counties whose fresh water San Antonio had been eyeing. The main downside is that it’s more expensive – five times the cost of drawing water from the Edwards Aquifer. That’s both better than not having enough water, and another demonstration of why conservation is easily the cheapest option.

The story notes that there’s more than enough brackish water underneath Texas to meet its demands, and includes something that I’ve been wondering about.

At about half the salinity of sea water, the water of the lower Wilcox is too salty for use in irrigation and until now has been left alone.

But through reverse osmosis treatment, salt-free water can be extracted, SAWS staff explained.

The remaining water, which is left with a much higher concentration of salt, is injected into the brackish portion of the Edwards Aquifer.

How much thought have we given to all that very salty water that is the byproduct of desalinization? I’ll take SAWS’ word for it that what they plan to do here is an acceptable solution, but how good are the disposal options in general? I don’t think we have any choice but to explore desalinization on a broad scale, I just worry that we’re creating another pollution problem for which we have not adequately thought about solutions.

The time to plan for the future was in the past

Here’s a piece in the Rio Grande Guardian by my one-time history professor Char Miller that’s worth your time to read:

Today is World Water Day, a U.N.-sponsored event that is an ideal time for communities to strategize about their future water needs.

For San Antonio (and South Texas), this year’s theme–Water for Cities: Responding to the Urban Challenge–could not be more appropriate. Globally and locally, rapid urbanization is intensifying pressure on the capacity of metropolitan regions to insure all people’s access to potable water.

Compared to mega-cities such as Lagos or Mumbai, San Antonio seems to be in ok shape. Few express disquiet that a city whose population has doubled since the 1980s, and is still absorbing more water-hungry souls, might be in jeopardy. As for its continued dependence on what is essentially a single source of water, the Edwards Aquifer, how bad can that be?

Click the link to find the answer. Water rights, and the fight for access to water between cities and rural areas in Texas, is already a big deal, and will continue to be so. Water conservation is a big part of the puzzle, but San Antonio already does pretty well on that point. There’s still more for it to do to keep up with its growing population and their need for the wet stuff.

San Antonio to introduce tiered water rates

Good for them.

The San Antonio Water System presented a proposed rate structure to the City Council on Wednesday that would penalize high-volume users while rewarding those who use less.

“This is designed to change behavior,” said Doug Evanson, SAWS chief financial officer and senior vice president.

[…]

By increasing rates for the top 7 percent of all users by 13.8 percent, SAWS believes those customers will voluntarily use less — conserving 1.4 billion gallons of water a year. According to the utility, the average consumer in the top tier would see a $20 monthly bill increase.

“You are just shifting who is paying the bill,” said District 9 Councilwoman Elisa Chan, who said although she opposes water waste, given the poor economy, rates should not be increased for any customers.

Well, yes. That’s the point. Those customers should be paying more. It’s the most effective way to encourage conservation. Let me introduce you to that Texas Water Matters report on reducing water usage, Councilwoman. You can say you oppose water waste, but that doesn’t mean anything if you don’t take sensible steps to actually combat it. And please note, once you put in such strong incentives for people to use less, you’ll wind up saving everyone money:

Because large water consumers use the most during droughts, they are driving peak demand and the need for SAWS to find new water sources, which are more expensive and raise rates for everyone, said Karen Guz, SAWS director of conservation.

Getting water from the Gulf Coast, for example, would mean building a desalination plant and pipeline at a cost of more than $1 billion.

“In the long run, conservation for San Antonio is going to be much cheaper for everyone,” McCormick said.

Sure seems like a no-brainer to me.