UTSA to manage water desalination study for Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority

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(June 4, 2013) -- Officials with the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA) and its partners, the General Land Office and UTSA, named a team led by MWH Global as the preferred finalist to conduct a feasibility assessment study for developing ocean water desalination as a regional water supply. The project includes the option of co-located power-generation facilities.

"This isn't just a study -- this is the kind of long-term thinking that will meet the needs of South Texans for generations," said Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. "This effort will be an important step in meeting the water and power needs of South Texas through the year 2060."

The Texas General Land Office agreed to partner with GBRA and will contribute toward funding the study.

"This feasibility study will have to consider and evaluate many factors, such as plant location, most effective and efficient water conveyance system, fuel source, safe brine disposal and other environmental issues, economic issues and construction timelines," said James L. Murphy, GBRA executive manager for water resources and utility operations.

Gary Asbury, GBRA manager of project engineering, anticipates the feasibility study could take up to 20 months to complete.

"While we will have to wait to see what the feasibility study determines, it is anticipated that the fully expanded project could yield up to 250 million gallons per day of desalinated water to serve the region," Asbury said. He anticipates that water could supply about 350,000 households per year.

In order to develop the RFQ for this project, GBRA consulted with Les Shephard, director of the Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute and the UTSA Robert F. McDermott Distinguished Chair in Engineering.

Shephard will serve as client project manager for the overall project, which he believes could potentially generate as much as 3,000 megawatts of electricity at full capacity to help mitigate impacts from growing power needs across Texas. Already, power officials are predicting potential power brown-outs across the state in the face of prolonged triple-digit temperatures that could hit this summer.

Now that the finalist has been selected, project representatives will begin contract negotiations with MWH to reach an agreement on costs, timeframes and other parameters of the project.

"Once the feasibility study has been completed, bringing [the] actual [project] to fruition could be one of the most important infrastructure projects undertaken in the continental United States," said William West Jr., GBRA general manager. "Outside of the Middle East, there is one in Singapore. A desalination plant located in Carlsbad, Calif., just north of San Diego, is located adjacent to a power plant, but it is designed specifically to generate desalinated water."

>> To learn more about the feasibility study, contact the UTSA Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute at 210-458-7970.