Should the Land Commissioner Get Into the Desalination Game?

The Austin American-Statesman reports that Jerry Patterson is considering building a desalination plant on GLO land in central Texas.
Tue July 10, 2012 1:07 am
AP Photo | Harry Cabluck

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson has floated the idea of building a desalination plant on General Land Office land in Central Texas

The Austin American-Statesman 's Asher Price reported that Patterson has hired water consulting firms to look into building a plant in Kyle or New Braunfels that would desalinate brackish water drawn up from some 1,400 feet underground.

"We want to do something scalable and deployable," Patterson told Price. "This is one of the elements of solving Texas' water problem."

Desalination is expensive, but has been "taken more seriously as large swaths of Texas and the West seek water," Price wrote. 

How would Patterson fund his desalination project? According to Price, the GLO could take funds from the "$26 billion Permanent School Fund to build the proposed desalination plant."

The plant could also be built with a mix of public and private funds: "A desal plant could be privately financed, or be built with an investment of the [Permanent School Fund], or maybe a mix of both. That's all still to be worked out. Right now, we're in the feasibility stage," Jim Suydam, the GLO's press secretary, said in an e-mail.

The Texas Tribune 's Kate Galbraith, touched upon the role desalination will play in Texas's future for her story on water and industry in the special water issue of TEXAS MONTHLY . Galbraith noted that El Paso's $91 million desalination plant, built in 2007 and named for U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, is now producing 4 percent of the city's water. The plant helped the city out in a huge way last year as the Rio Grande slowed to a trickle.

Now, more cities are salivating at the chance of building such a plant:

[D]esalination is the talk of Texas. San Antonio is building a plant much like El Paso’s, Odessa is thinking about one, and everyone from lakeside residents in Central Texas to uranium miners (who dream of a string of water-intensive nuclear power plants along the coast) is advocating for the technology, which could take advantage of the ocean of saline water—equivalent to some 150 years of Texas water use—that lies beneath the state. Though it’s not widely known, much of the continental United States sits atop such resources. Texas has a lot simply because it’s so vast.

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