Water & Energy for Texas

Study looks into turning Gulf water into drinking water

A $2-million effort is studying the feasibility of building a natural gas-fired power plant next to a seawater desalination facility along the Texas Gulf Coast. WWD Editorial Director Neda Simeonova spoke with Michael Lemonds, director of commercial leasing/special projects for Texas General Land Office (TGLO), about the initiative. 

Neda Simeonova: What prompted the TGLO and the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA) to partner for this research? 

Michael Lemonds: The impetus for this partnership was Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson’s search for new ways to earn money for the state’s $26-billion Permanent School Fund, which helps pay for the state’s share of public education and helps keep taxpayers’ property taxes low. 

TGLO owns land, much of which produces oil and gas. TGLO also has land that has great potential for development, but this potential is limited by a scarcity of available freshwater. TGLO also is one of Texas’ largest retail electricity providers for schools, cities and other public partners. This electricity is generated from natural gas produced on Permanent School Fund lands. 

GBRA is steward of the water resources in the Guadalupe-Blanco river basins. By creating a new source of freshwater in this area, it helps to alleviate the demand for existing freshwater resources upstream. 

This alignment of interests creates a potentially profitable partnership for both the Permanent School Fund, which would see the value of its surface holdings increase with the additional freshwater supply, as well as potential electricity sales, and GBRA. 

Additionally, state lawmakers have given the School Land Board, which is chaired by the TGLO commissioner, the authority to invest in land on behalf of the Permanent School Fund. 

Simeonova: How is the partnership funding the research effort? 

Lemonds: TGLO may invest up to $300,000 toward the study. GBRA is working with other water utilities, municipalities and industries near the coast to locate additional secondary partners for the study.

Simeonova: What is the benefit of building a natural gas-fired power plant next to a seawater desalination facility? 

Lemonds: Desalination is an energy-intensive process. If you co-locate a dedicated energy source, you can cut your costs and increase your reliability. Other synergies are made possible as well, such as combining water intake and discharge infrastructure, which will avoid doubling the permitting and environmental challenges for facilities of this nature.

Simeonova: How will this project help alleviate water challenges caused by persistent drought and tightening surface water rights for Texas? 

Lemonds: This project could potentially bypass the two biggest hurdles for the creation of most new, freshwater resources in Texas: It could create a new source of water that doesn’t infringe on private property rights like groundwater, and doesn’t face the same environmental and prior appropriation challenges of surface water rights. Seawater desalination is a constant source and not subject to drought conditions, so the potential for a facility in Texas is tremendous and timely. 

The ultimate goal of this study is to understand the physical, economic and environmental challenges and opportunities for seawater desalination in Texas. TGLO and GBRA hope to create a roadmap on how to physically, economically and environmentally approach the development and operation of a seawater desalination facility in Texas.

Simeonova: What is the current stage of the initiative?

Lemonds: MHW Global has been selected as the project consultant and has started the initial scoping and data collection. 

Michael Lemonds is director of commercial leasing/special projects for Texas General Land Office. Lemonds can be reached
at 512.463.3881. Neda Simeonova is editorial director of Water & Wastes Digest. Simeonova can be reached at nsimeonova@sgcmail.com.

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