PORTLAND – The fight to stop the proposed Corpus Christi desalination plants at Harbor Island in Port Aransas and La Quinta Channel in San Patricio County is far from over.
With organizations like For the Greater Good and other area civic groups delivering thousands of petitions against the desal plants to the Corpus Christi City Council last Thursday (see page 2A) and the Ingleside on the Bay (IOB) Coastal Watch Association giving a presentation at a recent IOB city council meeting against said plants, things seem to be heating up.
Desalination plants essentially take in salt water from the ocean, remove the majority of the salt, treat the water then dump the brine left behind back into the sea. Residents are worried that the brine could affect the diverse sea life that lives in Nueces Bay and not only damage the environment but also hurt the tourism industry for places like Port Aransas.
There are only three large scale seawater desalination plants in the United States, one in Florida and two in California, which means the Corpus Christi area facilities would be Texas’ first.
The $224 million plant on Harbor Island would provide 20 millions of gallons per day (MGD) when up and running. If they choose to borrow additional funds to expand the plant, the production capacity would reach 30 MGD.
Once the second plant is built on the La Quinta Channel – and money is borrowed for that one to expand as well – the combined total would be approximately 70 MGD.
With more than 40 years of desal experience from all over the world, Immediate Past President of the Texas Desalination Association, Treasurer of the Caribbean Desalination Association and Portland resident Paul Choules contacted The News of San Patricio to weigh in on the public’s concerns about their livelihood and environment.
“There will be issues if it’s not done properly,” Choules said. “There is a lot of good data to show where desalination plants around the world are discharging into the environment and are using what’s called a diffuser.”
He said basically the diffuser is attached at the water discharge point and disperses the brine out over a broader area of the water to keep it from building up in one area.
Choules said that studies need to be done on the environmental impact of the area, which Corpus Christi has done, but he insisted that diffusers have to be used.
He has been responsible for desalination plants in places like Brazil, Australia and the Aruba which are environmentally sensitive areas, and there haven’t been any negative impacts there.
“I spent my entire career doing this,” Choules added.
While these two desal plants will be the first to be completed in Texas, they originally weren’t going to be.
Plastics company M&G Resins USA nearly completed the construction of a seawater desalination facility on the edge of the Port before filing for bankruptcy in 2017. The Port was then going to purchase the company and its desal assets and sell Corpus Christi the desalination plant that was nearly 90% complete. That plant can supply up to 30 MGD to the city.
Ultimately M&G was bought out by Corpus Christi Polymers, which was is international business venture, one of which M&G owed a large sum of money.
“Another one of the challenges is that desalination is tied to industry, and in many people’s minds that means growth,” Choules said. “Some people want growth, and some don’t.
“Everyone is always after the money these industries bring and that their tax revenue brings.”
He said that with federal, state and local governments supporting industry because of the money they bring, some of these decisions can’t be controlled by the people in the area.
“I may be biased here, but I think desalination is a viable option when it comes to a solution to the drought issue,” he added. “But I believe that (Corpus Christi) should seriously look at buying water directly from CC Polymers. They already have the site permitted; they have the capacity. As long as they can come up with a reasonable water rate, why not buy water from them instead of borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars and hiring people who don’t know what they’re doing?”
He said that the CC Polymers desalination Plant could be up and running within six to nine months. Requests for information on whether CC Polymers was going to complete construction on their desal plant were not immediately returned.
A request for comment on the CC Polymers plant to Corpus Christi City Manager Peter Zanoni also received no reply.
The Port said in a statement on their website in regards to the desal plants, “The Port recognizes that our community and economy are dependent upon tourism and fisheries within a healthy coastal ecosystem. We value our neighbors and are committed to ensuring that the plan reflects the goals of the region’s economy and environment.”
Choules also said that he believes public outreach is important and has contacted the Corpus Christi City Council to share his knowledge on desalination, but hasn’t heard back and it’s been more than two months.
“Good information needs to be out there so we can look at all the options,” he said. “You need to talk to the people.
“If I met with (Corpus Christi City Council) I probably wouldn’t be able to change their minds, but at least I could give them accurate information.”
Paul Gonzales is a reporter at The News of San Patricio and can be reached at 361-364-1270, or by email at email@example.com.