Joint Legislative Committee Tackles Water Desalination

by Cicely Kay
October 27, 2014

Texans may soon have to turn to drinking recycled saltwater, brackish water, or maybe even wastewater from natural gas fracking. The current drought has forced the state to look into alternative water resources, including water reuse and conservation measures. One form of water reuse that has become more desirable to those working to solve Texas’ water shortage is desalination - the process of removing salt and impurities from water sources such as seawater and brackish water. While technologies are still being perfected to recycle oil, gas, and industrial wastewater for potable use, industry is currently capable of recycling their own wastewater for further use.  At the same time that Texas’ economy is booming due to the oil and gas industry, we have towns such as Wichita Falls dangerously close to running out of water. If we are to sustain our “Texas Miracle” we absolutely must ensure that we have water to supply to millions of Texans, and the businesses and industries that make our thriving economy so great.

Dan Hunter, right, of the Texas Institute for Applied Environmental Research at Tarleton State University, speaks to the Joint Interim Committee to Study Water Desalination Monday, June 30, 2014, during a meeting at the Kemp Center for the Arts in Wichita Falls, Texas. (AP Photo/Wichita Falls Times Record News, Torin Halsey)

Dan Hunter, right, of the Texas Institute for Applied Environmental Research at Tarleton State University, speaks to the Joint Interim Committee to Study Water Desalination Monday, June 30, 2014, during a meeting at the Kemp Center for the Arts in Wichita Falls, Texas. (AP Photo/Wichita Falls Times Record News, Torin Halsey)

This was the message that became increasingly more clear with each expert, decision maker and citizen testifying at the June 30 Joint Interim Committee to Study Water Desalination in Wichita Falls. The City was the perfect location to illustrate the dire need Texas has to innovate and create tangible solutions to combat the ever-increasing water shortage in the state of Texas. The Mayor of Wichita Falls provided an exciting development to the City’s water struggle - the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) had recently given formal approval to begin a direct potable reuse project. It will take about two weeks to get the system up and running and will reduce water removal from their near empty lakes and reservoirs by 5 million gallons a day. While drinking and utilizing water that was previously wastewater once seemed undesirable, it is now an innovative solution cities are utilizing to reuse a diminishing natural resource.

Almost all of those testifying in front of the Joint Committee emphasized the need for alternative water supplies and sustainable, forward thinking policymaking. Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas State Climatologist and professor at Texas A&M’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences, provided a creative policy idea worth pursuing. While TCEQ already evaluates water quality across the state, they could create a voluntary water quantity evaluation system that cities could participate in. Municipal water sources would be evaluated on whether or not their water quantity was sufficient based on various years’ population projections. This would allow citizens to know where their city stands in terms of supply, and also let companies and industries know whether the city has adequate water supplies to sustain their business. In the process it creates incentives for cities to innovate and diversify their supplies in the pursuit of drought resiliency and economic development.

Progressive ideas such as these are crucial to solving our state’s water crisis and need to be seriously pursued in the near future. As the public learns more of our water crisis, and the effective technologies used to recycle a precious resource, reused wastewater may well taste even better than previously imagined.

Cicely Kay is a second-year masters candidate at UT's LBJ School of Public Affairs.