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City and Port of Corpus Christi begin collaboration on water desalination

Special Report: Getting the facts about desalination
Posted at 8:46 PM, Apr 18, 2023

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — On March 21, Corpus Christi City Council passed a resolution for the city manager to start collaborating with the Port of Corpus Christi on finding a drought resistant water source. The Port commissioners passed a similar memorandum of understanding on the same day.

On Tuesday, they presented their progress report to city council.

“I think that the collaboration has merit and can really benefit the City of Corpus Christi, the region, the Port of Corpus Christi,” Corpus Christi City Manager Peter Zanoni said.

A top choice for a solution to consistent drought issues is water desalination.

The Port is pursuing water desalination sites at Harbor Island and the LA Quinta Channel. The city is looking at the inner harbor, La Quinta Channel and most recently the Barney Davis Power Plant.

Harbor Island is the Port’s top choice and that is where the two entities have started assessing. After "numerous" conversations, site visits have been made to Harbor Island.

“We started this process back in 2017 for reasons that many of you are aware of," Port CEO Sean Strawbridge said. "We thought that 50 million gallons a day was going to be enough. Here we are five years later and we are duly concerned that 50 million gallons a day will not be enough.”

Some of the things being discussed with the Harbor Island project are the amount of output, placement of intake and outtake tunnels. The Port has already received a permit for desalination discharge from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). The Environmental Protection Agency put a hold on that permit as they have concerns that need to be remedied.

Looking at logistics, Zanoni said he recommended an engineer that Strawbridge could consult with. So, the Port has decided to put up to $250,000 to evaluate how the Harbor Island site could connect to the city's water distribution system.

No priority location has been settled on between the two entities, the Harbor Island site is where conversations began.

Council members agreed they have concerns for the environment when considering desalination. They expressed those concerns with the Harbor Island site and inner harbor site.

“With regard to the inner harbor, until we get some of that modeling or until we get some justification as to how that salinity dissipates, it’s hard to approve that,” Councilman Gil Hernandez said.

Strawbridge tried reassuring council that the environmental impact would be minimal at Harbor Island, siting reports by third parties that were done.

Strawbridge and Zanoni have also begun discussing how to determine rate costs for customers and the capacity that may be needed.

"That's where we really think Harbor Island does provide an opportunity for that growth because it's so close to the Gulf of Mexico and the size of the property, it provides some scalability that perhaps other locations we certainly have looked at may be limited on their scalability.

Strawbridge said he anticipates, if all goes well, the Port will have all permits for Harbor Island next year. An estimate he received for construction would be 36 to 40 months. So, he said desalination is probably 5 years away.

Councilwoman Sylvia Campos tried lobbying for the idea to put desalination up for a vote with the voters. Campos remains committed to looking for another drought-resistant water source.

“The point is that we need to try everything else before we attempt desalination,” she said. "And then, I also noticed on your presentation that it didn't even mention conservation."

Zanoni addressed the most likely source the city could get water from, the Evangeline Groundwater Project.

“The soonest available water is probably through Evangeline Groundwater System and that they’ve told us is about two years. But some people think that’s optimistic,” he said.

Communication between the city and port will continue as Zanoni added no costs can be known until much more work is done.

It’s a consensus, though, the collaboration will be beneficial for all and may help secure some state funding for desalination.

“They call it the SWIFT Loan, but there's talk at the legislature to substantially increase that funding amount, that funding availability. And, we have heard from our legislators, both locally and up in Austin, that this area would best be suited in competition for additional monies if we collaborate,” he said.

The city and port are planning site visits for the inner harbor for the next three Fridays beginning April 21. Dates for visits to the Barney Davis site have yet to be scheduled.

Strawbridge and Zanoni are planning for more presentations to city council about their progress.

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