Texas cities ponder desalination as lawmakers seek to remove legal obstacles

Texas cities McAllen and Edinburg are mulling the construction of a desalination plant to service both cities.

The cities’ water supplies are currently dependent on the Rio Grande. Officials are concerned that the growing population in their region may over tax the river. They are anticipating that a plant that purifies groundwater may assist the cities in meeting their growing demand for water amid persistent drought.

Officials from both cities think a regional approach could garner more help from the state: “You start using the word ‘regional,’ and it opens doors to financing,” said McAllen public utility board chairman, Charles Amos.

Discussions between the cities date back to last year, according to Edinburg city manager Ramiro Garza. And after a two-year study the Rio Grande Regional Water Authority concluded, in 2013, that desalination was the best way to deal with a growing population’s water needs. The authority also concluded that demand would outstrip current availability by more than 600 million m³ a year by 2060.

Potential locations are near McAllen’s north and south treatment plants. After purification, the water would be blended in with the main supply. Meanwhile Texas lawmakers are poised to clear regulatory obstacles to building Gulf of Mexico desalination plants.

A Senate bill currently in committee would remove legal obstacles to enable Texas regulators to develop regional approaches for large-scale seawater desalination and eventually make way for construction of desalination facilities. Private organisations currently will not pay for the planning of desalination projects, or invest in large-scale seawater desalination projects without legal and regulatory clarification.