Globally, there are around 12,500 desalination facilities with a total capacity of about 4 billion gallons per day, according to the Texas Water Development Board. The majority of those desalinate seawater because of its availability and abundance.

Despite this, the U.S. has not really joined in the pursuit of seawater desal to a great extent.

But it’s a solution that warrants attention. By 2060, about two-thirds of the Texas population will live within 150 miles of the Gulf Coast, and by that time, the state will be looking to the Gulf of Mexico for water, the State Water Plan notes.

The Texas Water Development Board even points out that seawater desal would produce 28,000 acre-feet per year of new water supplies by 2060. In fact, the 2012 State Water Plan includes recommendations for four seawater desalination projects located in ">Freeport, ">San Antonio, ">">Brownsville and ">">Laguna Vista/Madre.

However, seawater is more expensive to desalinate for two reasons, Irlbeck says: first, the higher the salt concentration, the more expensive it is to desalinate, and second, seawater requires far more pretreatment to remove all suspended solids before membrane technology can be applied.

Irlbeck explains that NRS has helped build a pilot seawater desal facility on South Padre Island and a demo seawater desal project for the Brownsville Public Utilities Board.

There is only one major seawater desal plant in the U.S. today, and it’s located in Tampa Bay, Fla., Irlbeck says.

Desal Prospects

According to Patterson, that there is “absolutely” potential for more desalination facilities to be built across Texas – depending on the success of the GLO’s current project.

While critics often call desalination too expensive to be realistic, the 2012 State Water Plan points out that desalination “is expected to produce nearly 310,000 acre-feet of potable water by 2060.” That’s made possible by “improvements in membrane technology, new variations on evaporative-condensation techniques, and other more recent changes [making] desalination more cost-competitive than before.”