The drought in Texas has left water providers and their customers — cities, industries and farmers — looking for new sources.
When a brackish water desalination plant in Brazoria County comes online, residents will be less dependent on the Brazos River.
However, officials in Galveston County, which also takes most of its water from the Brazos River, said a similar facility would not be feasible here. In addition to concerns over increasing costs, Galveston County has subsidence problems.
A plentiful resource
A $59 million desalination plant set to go online in 2019 in Brazoria County will provide water to seven municipalities and industrial partners through a process using brackish water pumped out of the ground.
Brazosport Water Authority provides water to the cities of Angleton, Brazoria, Clute, Freeport, Lake Jackson, Oyster Creek and Richwood. It also provides water to Dow Chemical Co. and two Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison units in Brazoria County.
The recommendation to build the plant came after a study involving 19 participants, including the Gulf Coast Water Authority, near the end of the Brazos River.
Based on the findings from the study, the best alternative was to maintain the Brazosport Water Authority’s plant in Lake Jackson and to add a brackish water desalination unit, General Manager Ronnie Woodruff said.
The study included projections on population growth and water demand through 2040.
The project will be funded by money the water authority has set aside from refinancing bonds and a rate increase to those involved in the project, Woodruff said.
To minimize the costs to residents, the project is being broken up into four pieces, Woodruff said. The bond payments would be split up by $9.7 million in 2014, $9.61 million in 2015, $25.54 million in 2016 and $14.1 million in 2018.
Initially, rates for residents will increase by an additional 80 cents to $1 per 1,000 gallons a month, Woodruff said. Clients now pay $2.25 per 1,000 gallons.
“The average household uses about 10,000 gallons a month,” Woodruff said. “That means it would be about an $8 to $10 increase at each house.”
There’s a chance that those rates will decrease as Brazosport Water Authority officials are looking at supplying the city of Rosenberg, he said.
Not an option
Ivan Langford, general manager of the Gulf Coast Water Authority, said a brackish water desalination plant would not be possible in Galveston County because of subsidence restrictions.
The Harris-Galveston Subsidence District allows cities to take only about 10 percent of their water from a groundwater source, Langford said. Brazoria County does not have that restriction.
The other desalination possibility, treating seawater, can be much more expensive, Langford said.
But the Gulf Coast Water Authority is looking to other options, such as buying water from a proposed Allens Creek Reservoir on the Brazos River and buying recycled, treated water from the city of Houston.
Looking to the future
Desalination of some type is “going to be the answer at some point,” said Galveston County Judge Mark Henry.
Surface water is cheaper than desalinated water. But eventually, as the price of surface water goes up and the price of desalinating water goes down, desalination will become a viable option, he said.
Henry said he expects the county will conduct its own study on desalinated water in the next year or two.
Conservation and the reuse of treated water are important tools, Henry said. But at some point desalination will be necessary.
“I don’t see another way to solve the fresh water supply problem for this region,” Henry said.