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With drought concerns swirling, city updates status of possible desalination plants

With drought concerns swirling, city updates status of possible desalination plants
Posted at 9:42 PM, Jul 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-19 23:31:22-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — At the same meeting in which the Corpus Christi City Council considered enacting stage two water restrictions Tuesday, council members also received — and gave their thoughts about — a status update on proposed desalination plants.

Those facilities remove salt from seawater, making it drinkable for people and usable for industries, but the permitting and building process for them is lengthy and costly.

“Even if we do it as fast as we can, we’re still five to seven years out from being able to have a completed plant where we can draw water,” Councilmember At-Large John Martinez said.

The city would like to build two desalination plants, and right now they have four permits for those plants pending before the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

The process isn't moving fast enough for some council members who urged city employees involved in the "Desal" project to increase their efforts to get those permits approved.

“If we need to get another engineering firm to help us get this ball across the goal-line, that’s what we need to do," Councilmember At-Large Mike Pusley said. "It’s taking way too long for this to happen.”

Mayor Paulette Guajardo says the current city council has achieved more progress on desal than other councils, but she doesn't think that reaching out to groups like TCEQ and the Environmental Protection Agency is all it will take for them to approve the permits faster.

"I would love nothing more than to get right in front of their faces — they meaning the state, TCEQ, EPA — all of those agencies and say, ‘Hey people, do you realize we need this permit now?" she said. "We provide water for 500,000 people. It is not that easy, unfortunately.”

Others on the city council want to consider alternatives to desalination plants, like the Evangeline Groundwater Project, to also supplement what the city already has.

“I hope that we do have some sort of deal with Evangeline or some other organization so that we have some other options — so that we don’t put the blinders on that it’s desal, desal, desal,” District 5 Councilmember, Gil Hernandez said.

The city met with that project's leaders in 2019 and had a deal been made then, it's possible the city could have started receiving water from Evangeline in a couple of months.

The council voted it down, and District 3 Councilmember, Roland Barrera says it was for a good reason.

“At that time it wasn’t affordable," he said. "And the majority of the council agreed on that. And that’s politics and governance.”

Politics aside, there's more agreement among city council members.

The support for desal is strong, and so is the hopefulness that the permits will come in, the building of the plants can begin, and those plants can start churning out an estimated 70 million gallons of water a day.

“We don’t always agree on a lot of things, but one thing we do agree on and that’s a water source for the city for the future,” District 1 Council Member. Billy Lerma said.