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Special Report: Is desalination a pipe dream?

Posted at 5:03 PM, Jul 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-26 19:30:19-04

CORPUS CHRISTI – Water is one of the building blocks of life. It’s something every city needs to grow and thrive.

“It’s probably the most important thing you can have for your community in order to be successful,” said Corpus Christi Mayor Joe McComb.  “If you don’t have water, you become a community of tumbleweeds and people have to leave.”

The Coastal Bend currently gets its fresh water from Lake Corpus Christi.

“We’re the regional water supply, not just the city of Corpus Christi,” said McComb.  “We supply Port Aransas, we supply San Patricio Water District, we supply Beeville, Kingsville.”

But Lake Corpus Christi is a finite resource, one which needs rain to replenish it.

“We can do a lot of things as elected officials, but we can’t make it rain,” said McComb.

But the region is called the Coastal Bend for a reason; it sits on the Gulf of Mexico, an endless supply of salt water unfit for most uses.

Mayor McComb sees an opportunity. Corpus Christi can become a pioneer in desalination, the process of taking salt out of sea water and making it safe to use.

For years, critics dismissed desalination as a pipe dream, saying converting salt water into fresh water wasn’t a cost-effective solution.  But Mayor McComb made desalination a key point of his re-election platform because he believes the process is closer than ever to becoming a reality.

“We’re getting there, and I think pretty shortly we’re going to be able to make a decision on where we can locate the plant and then make a decision to pull the trigger to build it,” said McComb.

But the city can’t do desalination alone, it needs a partner to help foot the bill.  That’s where the Port of Corpus Christi comes in.

“When you’re talking about desalination as a solution, it’s not something you can decide on today and implement tomorrow,” said Sarah Garza, Director of Environmental Planning & Compliance for the Port of Corpus Christi.

In addition to a city study using a $2 million grant, the Port is exploring a pair of options.  Port officials have started the permitting process for sites at La Quinta near Gregory, and on Harbor Island.  The La Quinta site would cover industrial water, while Harbor Island would take care of potable water.

“Ideally what we’ll have is package that will have all the permits needed for a desalination plant, and be able to turn it over for construction,” Garza said.

The city and port have worked side by side to make desalination a reality.

“The port is an integral part in this whole process, and they’ve been a good partner,” said McComb.  “Working together I think we’re gonna solve this problem.”

But desalination is still at least a few years away.  That’s a few more years added to what’s been a generational debate.  But everyone involved agrees, if desalination isn’t the solution one needs to be found for the city’s future.

“As Corpus Christi continues to grow, we’ve got to find a water supply for the future,” said McComb.

It’s also vital to the region.

“In our opinion, it is a game changer,” said Garza.  “We do need to have water to continue to grow.”

If officials can make desalination work, Mayor McComb envisions Corpus Christi being able to supply more of the state with water, the economic impact from which would be tremendous for the city.

The mayor added technological advancements in desalination have made costs comparable to how the city treats its water now.