Environment
4:59 pm
Thu July 3, 2014

SAWS' New Desalination Plant, By The Numbers

SAWS workers display the type of filter that will be used to purify the salty Wilcox Water.
SAWS workers display the type of filter that will be used to purify the salty Wilcox Water.
Credit Ryan Loyd / TPR News

San Antonio Water System's new desalination plant will come online in 2016. Wednesday, leaders with SAWS broke ground to officially kick-off the initiative that will purify salt water from the Wilcox Aquifer.

The salty aquifer is about two Tower of the Americas deep underground in Southern Bexar County. SAWS is building a plant that will clean all of that salt out so people can drink it. SAWS spokesperson Greg Flores said the ocean is about 20 times more salty, but it will still need to be purified.

"It will taste and smell just like Edwards water," Flores said. "Our goal is to make sure that we maintain that high quality of the Edwards water with all our new supplies that we bring in so that's part of the treatment process also -- to make it look and taste like Edwards water, so nobody will know the difference."

SAWS has been working on the desalination idea since 2005. Through reverse osmosis, the water from the 400 million acre foot aquifer will be cleaned. In comparison, San Antonio uses only .06 percent of the total capacity of the Wilcox Aquifer in a year.

Spokesperson Anne Hayden said for every 10 gallons pumped, there will be nine gallons of clean water and one gallon of brine. The filters used are extremely tiny, she said.

"The filters are 100,000 times smaller than human hair," Hayden said, "and the water is pushed through those filters."

There are about 40 desalination plants across Texas but most are small, Flores said. When this plant is finished, it'll be the largest inland desalination plant in the country. It will produce 12 million gallons of water each day at first and 30 million gallons when the plant is complete.

SAWS leader say it's preparing for the growth of the area and this is another source of water that's never been tapped before.

Phase one's $192.7 million price tag is already being paid for with current water rates. The next phases in 2021 and 2026 will need further investments to pay for the entire $411 million project.