Local NewsPort of Corpus Christi Moves Forward With Application for Second Desalination Plant Permit

With the first step cleared, the Port of Corpus Christi moves onto the second and final hurdle before it can break ground on the plant.
January 20, 2023
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The Port of Corpus Christi has jumped one hurdle and is onto another in its path toward constructing a groundbreaking saltwater desalination plant in the coastal city.

The commission that oversees the port approved it to move forward with seeking a seawater intake permit at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). A discharge permit had already been approved after two years of navigating the bureaucratic red tape required by the agency.

Water desalination is a method of purifying seawater for civil and commercial consumption. Port Commission Chairman Charles Zahn described the process in an interview with The Texan as “a commercial reverse osmosis process.” Saltwater is filtered through membranes that separate the water from the oceanic contaminants; the leftover solution is called “brine” and is dumped back into the ocean.

The proposed desalination plant is sited for Harbor Island, across Redfish Bay from Port Aransas. There is currently no rush to get the project up and running; Zahn said it is a proactive project to cope with the state and region’s long-term water needs as the population grows and existing sources wane.

Once constructed, the plant will generate 50 million gallons of water per day — about half of what the City of Corpus Christi currently produces through its sources of surface water.

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As large-volume water users, our industrial partners long have expressed the need for a sustainable drought-proof water source,” Zahn said. “In response to that call to action, Port of Corpus Christi Commissioners voted Tuesday to authorize Port staff to pursue the second permit needed to advance plans for the proposed desalination facility on Harbor Island.”

Zahn said that the idea has been in the works for two decades, but every time the commission “got close to moving forward on it, there’d be a leadership change at the city” that’d throw a wrench into the effort.

This current iteration of the plan didn’t begin until roughly four years ago. The discharge permit process went through a lengthy administrative trial at the TCEQ; members of the public contested the permit on environmental grounds.

Those criticisms usually focus on potential disruption to wildlife and the effect of brine’s re-entry into the environment if it’s not properly diluted.

Desalination is an incredibly energy-intensive process and large-scale plants require “tens of megawatts” to operate, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The Carlsbad Plant in San Diego, California, which has the same output as the planned one in Corpus, requires about 35 megawatts of electricity to operate.

But other places have had substantial success with desalination. Israel has become the standard-bearer of desalination, generating a 25 percent water supply surplus that they then sell off to their dry-region neighbors.

Zahn wasn’t sure of how the plant’s product would be distributed — the civil use and industrial use divide — but one company that just relocated to the port uses about 20 million gallons per day.

There are four other desalination projects in the area, two from the city and one more by the port. Another is in the planning process by Corpus Christi Polymers.

The Port of Corpus Christi — which just reached its centennial — is the closest of the two entities to breaking ground on the groundbreaking operation.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.

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