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Getting the facts straight about desalination

Special Report: Getting the facts about desalination
Utilities fact sheet
Desal map
Posted at 12:15 PM, Oct 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-30 08:57:55-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — You may have received this flyer by now.

It came from Austin-based group called Texas Campaign for the Environment and if focuses on desalination.

However, City Manager Peter Zanoni says every single aspect of this flyer is inaccurate and misleading.

“I got one myself last Friday,” Zanoni said.

The flyer has an emoji at the top left corner of the flyer and says the Corpus Christi City Council wants to treat “our bay like #2,” saying that a desal plant would pollute our waterways.

“That’s not true” Zanoni said. “That is our biggest asset in our community …nobody at City Hall, including City Council, the city staff, or myself want to destroy our environment. We know how important it is to our region. It’s the lifeblood of our region.”

Zanoni adds that “there’s a lot of studies underway that will prove, and we have to prove it to State and Federal governments we don’t have an adverse impact (on the environment) and so we won’t be able to get the permits if it does have an adverse impact on the environment.”

The flyer also says desal water would be for industry only, which again Zanoni wants to reiterate is false.

“That’s not true,” he said. “The city as we talked to the community we’re at a point where we need more water for our community to grow. That’s for you and I and commercial and for industrial.

“We are at a point where the amount of water we need compared to the water we bring in is almost to an equilibrium. And the pursuit to use desal is the choice City Council will make. But it’s a good water source, it’s one top leaders across the world are recommending for Corpus Christi.”

Coastal Alliance to Protect Our Environment TX is a local group that is concerned about desalination.

Errol Summerlin, a long-time activist and Corpus Christi attorney and the founder of CAPE TX, says that while his group did not produce the flyer, they do stand by it and have the documentation to back what it says.

"They (the city) say it's all going to be diffused that it's all going to be mixed in,” Summerlin said. “The one on La Quinta Channel - have they considered the fact that in the same location when Exxon begins its discharging will be 9.3 million gallons of water a day? That's more than any industry discharges right now – Valero, Citgo. You name it.”

So KRIS 6 News fact-checked each bullet point and here's what we found:

Is desal just for industry, as the flyer says? The answer is no. Water from a desal plant in Corpus Christi would be for everyone. residents, businesses and industry.

Was desal parly pursued initially because more industry has moved and is moving to our area? The city says yes. But that the purpose for it has evolved for it to be for everyone including the seven counties who rely on the city's water.

And as far as polluting our bay, The Harte Research Institute at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi conducted a study and they are in favor of a desalination plant.

Dr. Larry McKinney, the chair for Gulf strategies at the Harte Research Institute says “we think desal is a good option going forward."

"Water is the most important issue in this state,” McKinney said. “Far more than oil, frankly.”

McKinney says studies show our part of the state will become much drier than it is now.

"It's going to be more desert-like, so now is the time to secure the water we need to make sure that the consequences of not having water is something we don't have to deal with."

McKinney says it would be best if a desal plant would be built out in the Gulf, to minimize environmental impact, but he strongly believes the city is not done with their research and says he believes they are doing their due diligence.

We asked the city a few more things about desal. Here are the questions and answers:

Q: Why not build the plant in the Gulf like the HRI report recommends?

A: Per theHarte Research Institute report(as commissioned by the City of Corpus) that was performed in the Gulf, while the city is unable to commit to the “preferred” intake and discharge location recommended by the HRI, the city did meet the specifications outlined in the report for alternative intake and discharge if additional perimeters and guidelines were met (which the city is committed to meeting).

Q: Why not just build one big plant instead of two?

A: Our current demand needs are 20MGD. By building more than we need today, we strand capacity and build energy that will never be used. Our goal is to build for resources that will be utilized and needed for the demand projected.

CAPE TX says desal will cost $1.3 billion. Here’s how they are backing it up by submitting these documents that were submitted to the Texas Water Development Board.

When you add them up, they say it equals $1.3 billion.

Their explanation:

  • The documents provided by CAPE TX are from the 2021 Region N plan.
  • The 2021 plan uses the Unified Cost Model developed by the Texas Water Development Board. This model establishes one uniform cost by balancing all the differences between groundwater, surface water, reuse, etc.
  • The challenge with the model is that it projects a high cost for our proposed plants because the Texas Water Development Board does not have any seawater desalination plants to compare to.
  • The Region N Plan (as referenced by CAPE TX) is a high-level planning document only. It is not meant to be a project budgeting tool.

To this, Zanoni adds “right now we’re working on a range of about $180 million to $220 million or so, that’s what the cost estimate is for the desal plant that were looking at.”

One last fact about the flyer – the phone number that is listed.

Zanoni says beware.

“I called that number myself just a few minutes ago and you get a recording,” he said. “We don’t want people calling numbers that we don’t even know whose number it is and leaving information for city council.”

Even the president of "Texas Campaign For the Environment" says they don’t have access to that number’s mailbox.

Zanoni says if you have questions or concerns to call the city’s Water Department at (361) 826-1600.

Other websites to check for more information include the following: