El Paso is a city of more than 600,000 people on the Mexican border and it shares both the Rio Grande River and groundwater with Ciudad Juárez in Mexico. It only receives an average of 10 inches of rain each year and during the 2011 drought, the city went 119 days without rain. Living in a state of constant water scarcity has made the city and its residents leaders in water conservation. In 1986, El Pasans were using 210 gallons per capita per day per (gpcd), and by 2017, they had nearly halved consumption to 128 gpcd.
Plans for desalination facilities in El Paso started in 1999. The Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant (KBH) was completed in 2007 and is the largest inland desalination plant in the United States. Key to the construction of the KBH plant was a public-public partnership collaboration between El Paso Water and Fort Bliss, the local military base. It has since received multiple grants and awards for research on all aspects of desalination. The KBH Plant is capable of producing 27.5 million gallons of fresh water each day, contributing 10% to El Paso’s overall water portfolio.
Wastewater effluent is reclaimed by one of four treatment plants in El Paso. This reclaimed water is used for outdoor watering of parks, golf courses, and sports fields, as well as for fire protection and residential landscapes. Even in a desert, flood control measures are important. In response to severe flooding in 2006, El Paso city officials adopted a stormwater master plan. After identifying priority areas, the city is able to capture 100 million gallons of runoff that would otherwise cause damage to homes and roads. By reclaiming and recycling wastewater and stormwater, the City can alleviate reliance on stressed aquifers or surface water supplies like the Rio Grande. El Paso Water is also designing an Advanced Water Purification Facility to produce direct potable reuse to supplement the city’s drinking water supplies.
Water in San Antonio is managed by the San Antonio Water System (SAWS), a public utility owned by the City. Historically, the region has been predominantly reliant on the Edwards Aquifer for its water needs. While San Antonio’s population has grown 150 percent over the past 35 years, the City’s total water consumption decreased fifty percent over the same time period (SAWS 2017). Educational and tax rebate programs developed by SWAS’s Conservation Department greatly incentivize household water conservation. Per capita, water consumption decreased from 225 gallons per capita per day (GCPD) in 1982 to 117 GCPD in 2016, with a goal of reaching 88 GPCD for total consumption by 2070.
Modeled largely after the achievements of El Paso, the SAWS finished construction on their brackish groundwater desalination (BGD) facility at the H2Oaks Center in 2016. The H2Oaks Center also houses two other water supply projects for SAWS: the aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) facility as well as fresh Carrizo Aquifer groundwater production. The BGD plant is capable of producing 12 million gallons of freshwater per day (13,441 acre-feet per year) through reverse osmosis. Brackish groundwater is extracted from 12 production wells located 1,500 feet below the surface in the Wilcox formation of the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer in Southern Bexar County. Two injection well dispose of brine more than a mile underground. Unlike the KBH plant, San Antonio’s desalination plant is entirely owned and operated by SAWS, the city’s public water utility company.
SAWS owns and operates the nation’s largest direct recycled water system. The Water Recycling Centers are capable of delivering 35,000 acre-feet per year of treated, non-potable recycled water to parks, golf courses, and industrial customers. The recycled water also supplements the flow of the famous San Antonio River and recharges the Edwards Aquifer. Currently, the recycled water is not suited for drinking (non-potable), but SAWS has discussed possible plans to either expand the current recycling program or implement a direct potable reuse system in the future.
Corpus Christi is a coastal city on the Gulf of Mexico. The city’s water system supplies 500,000 people between the city and other parts of the Coastal Bend. From 2011-2013, the city lived through one of its worst droughts on record. Combined with population growth and expected doubling of water demands by 2070, Corpus Cristi was identified as the site of Texas’ first seawater desalination plant. The city received a grant from the Texas Water Development Board’s (TWDB) State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT) in July 2017 to identify the best sites for the facility. Site selection was done by consulting firms Seven Seas Water Corp and Freese & Nichols. From the initial nineteen sites, two future sites are still being finalized as proponents of the facility pursue the requisite permits. The goal is for each facility to produce 10-30 million gallons of potable water a day to have a drought-proof, uninterruptible source of water to meet local demands and even become a water exporter.