El Paso – Desalination

El Paso is home to the largest inland desalination plant in the United States.  The Kay Bailey Hutchison (KBH) Desalination Plant was completed in 2007 and is capable of producing 27.5 million gallons of freshwater each day (30,804 acre-feet per year), representing 10% of El Paso’s water portfolio.  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.

*1 acre-foot of water is equal to 325,851 gallons.

Kay Bailey Hutchinson Plant
The Kay Bailey Hutchinson Desalination plant in El Paso, Texas (Source: El Paso Water, http://www.epwater.org)

El Paso – Water Reuse Technologies

Effluent water is reclaimed by one of four wastewater treatment plants in El Paso. Reclaimed water is used for outdoor watering of parks, golf courses, and sports fields, as well as for fire protection and residential landscapes. The water reclaimed alleviates further reliance on aquifers or surface water supplies, like the Rio Grande.

Even in a dessert, 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.

stormwater runoff in el paso
Image of stormwater runoff in El Paso, Texas (Source: El Paso Water, http://www.epwater.org)
the gateway pond stormwater catchment
The Gateway Pond stormwater catchment in El Paso, Texas (Source: El Paso Water, http://www.epwater.org)

San Antonio – Desalination

Modeled largely after the achievements of El Paso, the San Antonio Water System (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.

*1 acre-foot of water is equal to 325,851 gallons.

the h2oaks center in sa
The H2Oaks Center in San Antonio, Texas (Source: SAWS, http://www.saws.org)

San Antonio – Water Reuse Technologies

The nation’s largest recycled water system is owned by SAWS.  The system is 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.  Currently, the recycled water is not suited for drinking (non-potable).  SAWS has discussed possible plans to either expand the current recycling program or implement a direct potable reuse system in the future.

 Conservation and Land Acquisition Programs

While San Antonio’s population has grown 150 percent over the past 35 years, the city’s total water consumption has decreased fifty percent over the same time period (SAWS 2017 Water Management Report).  Educational and tax rebate programs developed by dedicated employees in the Conservation Department have helped incentivize the conservation of household water use with measurable results.  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.

As part of the Edwards Aquifer permits, SAWS must develop and implement a habitat conservation plan (EAHCP).  SAWS works with a diverse group of stakeholders and interest groups to ensure that endangered aquatic species which rely on springs and rivers fed by the Edwards Aquifer remain healthy and protected (SAWS 2017).  The utility also works to protect water quality of the Edwards Aquifer through its Sensitive Land Acquisition Program.  This program, widely supported by San Antonio citizens provides 1/8-of-a-cent addition to sales tax and is used to purchase land easements over the sensitive recharge and contributing zones of the aquifer.