|WESLACO, May 8 - The Rio Grande Regional Water Authority is working with Governor Rick Perry’s Office on four major water conservation and treatment projects.
Three of the projects could get funded through the Governor’s Texas Emerging Technology Fund and one could get funded via the Governor’s Texas Enterprise Fund.
The project that could get enterprise fund money involves taking saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico and turning it into potable water for residential use. The water would be transported via a pipeline from Brownsville to Edinburg, with cities able to access the water when needed.
One of the other projects, which could get funded through the emerging technology fund, would see the City of McAllen treat brackish water and save it in an aquifer for residential use later.
Discussion on all four projects occurred at a RGRWA meeting at the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council’s Transit Center in Weslaco on Wednesday.
“We have been told the Governor’s Office is sold on the projects,” RGRWA Executive Director Joe Barrera told the Guardian, at the end of the meeting. “These are sticks and bricks projects. The Governor’s Office wants to see things built. This has nothing to do with architectural drawings or plans. These are real projects and we are making real progress with them.”
During the meeting, Barrera explained how the desalination project in Brownsville would work. He said it is being developed by Brownsville Public Utilities Board in association with the Laguna Madre Water Supply Corporation.
“This project is the saltwater desalination water plant. There would be an inter-connect line from Brownsville to Edinburg for potable water,” Barrera said. “John has purchased an easement to run a gas line down there. We are proposing two lines additional in that easement. One for potable water and one for a brine discharge line. We would take the brine to the navigation district so we can get rid of it. But, there is also a market for the brine. John is working with a company that is interested in buying the brine. This project seems to be getting a lot of play.”
Barrera was referring to John S. Bruciak, general manager and CEO of Brownsville PUB. Interviewed later about the desalination project, Barrera said: “This project involves the Brownsville PUB and Laguna Madre Water Supply Corporation. There is also some interest from East Rio Hondo Water Supply Corporation. We would take saltwater from the Gulf and turn it into drinking water. Tied to all these projects is a water line with potable water, with water going in either direction from Brownsville to Edinburg. There would be lines coming off it to the cities that need the water.”
Barrera said the pipeline is important because it would overcome the problem some smaller cities had when they could not get sufficient “push water” from the irrigation districts last year.
“The line that would take the brine, which is the discharge from the reverse osmosis plants, is interesting because it could go to the navigation district, where we could dispose of it without having to go through a drainage ditch and without having to have a permit from TCEQ, or we could sell the brine,” Barrera told the Guardian. “John said there is interest from a Chinese firm that wants to produce a product they can sell. If we can do that it will lower our water cost.”
Roy Rodriguez, McAllen’s interim city manager, is a member of the RGRWA. He explained the brackish water treatment project.
“We are trying to use the technology we have now and reintroduce the water into an aquifer. That has not been done before for brackish water in Texas. That is what has gotten the attention of the Governor’s Office,” Rodriguez said.
“In addition we are hoping to be able to add a reuse component to the project. This would be a direct reuse. Wichita Falls will be the first to have a first direct potable reuse plant. We think we have an opportunity in McAllen to do something similar. That is to take the South Wastewater Treatment Plant, take the effluent, make it a Type 1 effluent, and put it back into our reservoir.”
Rodriguez said McAllen is blessed because it has two reservoirs. “We have a luxury not many have down here. Between the two we have a half a billion gallon reservoir capacity in order to do pollution solution. One of the reasons we have pushed this real hard is that we have got about a $45 million project in McAllen for a new wastewater treatment plant. We have got a lot of leveraging money. Nineteen million of that is our own funding, the rest is state funding. There is some interest in that and we hope that it gets some traction.”
Brian MacManus, director of East Rio Hondo Water Supply Corporation, explained one of the other projects that could receive backing from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund. It involves computerized metering.
“There would be an automated disconnect. We could go online to shut the meter off if someone does not pay bill or if there is a health hazard, or we could close it if the customer is going out of town. If there is a leak in system we can narrow it down with transponders that pick up noise. We can isolate the problem and plan for leaks. It is a conservation effort,” MacManus said.
“We would have a daily water audit. We could immediately find out where the leaks are. We would not have to wait for the end of month to do audit. It is going to be a phenomenal tool as far as identifying leaks, as far as providing better customer service; better technology and data for the customers.”
MacManus said the project could be replicated in other rural areas.
Barrera, executive director of RGRWA, explained the third water project that could receive emerging technology fund monies. He said rice growers in the Wharton area of Texas would benefit from a metering project involving Delta Lake Irrigation District and Texas A&M Agri-Life Extension Service.
“Paramount Farming had their own funds but we brought them into our plans to get a better match. The project involves Delta Lake, which could meter the water from the time it leaves the pump to the time it reaches the crop,” Barrera said.
“The rice farmers have been thrown into our grant application. They have not received any water for irrigation for four years. They shut off the water on them so they cannot plant. They need help. A&M is trying to produce a new variety of rice that can be grown earlier in the season. If that happens, they would not need all the water to flood the fields to kill the weeds. Troy’s metering program at Delta Lake is for 200 acres but it could be expanded to 20,000 acres quickly. The rice industry could come back.”
Barrera was referring to Troy Allen, general manager of Delta Lake Irrigation District.
Barrera added that if the four projects win approval from the Governor’s Office, contracts to receive emerging technology funds or enterprise funds would have to be signed by December.