News Feature | October 6, 2022

Despite Drought, U.S. EPA May Block Trailblazing Texas Desalination Plant

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga


As water scarcity and consumer demand grow across much of the country, one of the driest states is pursuing an ambitious drinking water project, while still unsure if it will receive the federal green light.

“Texas regulators issued an environmental permit … to build what could become the state’s first seawater desalination plant — but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may refuse to accept it,” the Texas Tribune reported. “The marine desalination plant is expected to cost at least half a billion dollars to construct; an estimate provided to the Texas Water Development Board puts the cost at more than $800 million. Environmental groups have fought the project for four years on the grounds that wastewater from the plant could harm sensitive coastal ecosystems.”

As drought conditions worsen throughout the world, desalination is becoming an increasingly popular solution. Arizona is pursuing a $1.2 billion water plan that includes desalination efforts, and Israel is set to become the first country in the world to use desalinated water to recharge a natural lake.

But environmental concerns follow these projects wherever they appear as well. For instance, a proposed $1.4 billion desalination plant in California faced its own permitting obstacles. In Texas, it now seems that those concerns could very well put an end to any hopes that the state’s recent permitting raised for the new desalination plant.

“The federal agency is concerned that Texas’ permit may not be sufficient to protect aquatic life and water quality … and that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) did not send the permit to the EPA for federal review,” per the Tribune. “(But) TCEQ commissioners … seemed to dismiss the EPA’s concerns.”

While a showdown between federal and state authorities seems inevitable, nothing will change the fact that innovation is needed to maintain drinking water supplies for consumers and industrial users. Time will tell whether or not desalination becomes that solution in this Texas region, but local leaders seem to be counting on it.

“While the process is more costly than traditional water supplies, it is often seen as a source of water that can withstand significant drought,” according to the Caller Times. “Port and city of Corpus Christi leaders largely support the establishment of these types of facilities.”

To read more about how communities around the country are coping with drought, visit Water Online’s Water Scarcity Solutions Center.