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City leaders to vote on desalination loan

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Posted at 6:07 PM, Aug 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-20 21:06:38-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The city council votes next week on whether to accept a loan to pay for a desalination plant in the city's inner harbor along the Corpus Christi Ship Channel.

However, there are concerns with the deal.

“We’re not really seeing options as to how to do desal, we’re basically on one track,” said District 5 City Council Member Gil Hernandez.

Tuesday’s vote is to approve the first $12 million of a more than $222 million loan from the Texas Water Development Board. The TWDB approved the city through its State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT).

Hernandez voted against applying for the loan, and says he will vote against accepting it.

“I’m not against desal; I think desal is an option,” said Hernandez. “The way we’re doing it, it has some questions to it.”

Hernandez’s concerns stem from the fact the city only got one estimate on construction costs.

“You wouldn’t have major surgery without a second opinion, no matter how good the doctor is you’re working with,” he said. “You wouldn’t buy a car without doing some price comparisons.”

Based on the cost of other desal plants, both in the U.S. and around the world, Hernandez believes the final cost will be much higher than the current bid. He also says the average water customer (based on 5,000 gal./mo.) will see a $2/month increase to repay the loan.

That’s on top of increases planned to cover the city’s consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency.

“That puts a lot of pressure on the utility bill, and I want to make sure we’re not doing more harm to our rate payers than needs to be done,” said Hernandez.

There are also environmental concerns. Specifically, the brine which will be discharged into the channel. Desalination creates a gallon-and-a-half of brine for every gallon of fresh water created.

“The secret to this is dilution, like it is with many things,” said the director of Texas A&M Corpus Christi’s Harte Research Institute Larry McKinney.“If you can dilute that brine quickly, then you reduce potential impacts.”

The city believes any impact to the channel will be limited.

A statement from the city’s water department said, “The City of Corpus Christi is working extensively with biological and environmental experts to maintain our bay's salinity and preserve it for future generations. The City has spent years collaborating with the community and carefully planning this project. No tax dollars are being used to fund this project; we are using a low-interest SWIFT loan, and our large volume customers are contributing $0.25 per 1,000 gallons used for nearly two years. Seawater desalination provides a responsible, sustainable and resilient solution to our current and trending water demands for our region.”