Science 5 min read

SAWS Brackish Water Desalination Project

SAWS Brackish Water Desalination Project

Engineers are optimistic the new water desalination project in San Antonio, Texas, will help relieve water scarcity problems in the area. The project also hopes to quell scarcity risks to the local natural gas operations in the region. 

San Antonio’s new and much needed water desalination center, H20aks, is a welcomed addition to a city and region that have recently faced fears regarding how to get ahead of a looming and inevitable water crisis.

The project, which is the product of a popular vote and support from the oil and gas industry, was realized into a community-oriented facility focused on developing sustainable water solutions.

The center is host to a team of onsite researchers and engineers who work in an internal research facility. There, they are able to leverage university resources to optimize and refine current desalination technology while training the next generation of engineers to improve and innovate.

#SAWS converts 12 million gallons of #brackish #water for potable consumptionClick To Tweet

The desalination plant is both a preventative and sustainable solution to the lack of water in the area.

Additionally, this bodes well for entrepreneurial endeavors in natural gas and investment opportunities because the project alleviates water scarcity and sourcing volatility, which are arguably the biggest concerns for Eagle Ford area investments.

How SAWS Works

The San Antonio Water System (SAWS) has two other aquifers that pull fresh water from 1000 feet below ground.

600 feet beneath the fresh water, under layers of various types of clay, chalk limestone and shale, sits a river of brackish water that contains salt, sand, and minerals.

The brackish river is unaffected by drought, and SAWS is able to produce an extra 12 million gallons of potable water.

They filter the brackish water by reverse osmosis, removing 99.9% of salt and minerals from the water.

Then, the newly desalinated water is combined with fresh water from one of the two SAWS aquifers pumped from wells.

Afterward, the water is stored and ready to be safely distributed.

What Happens to all the Salt?

Every day, the center must redirect one million pounds of residual salt and solids.

The salt is distributed through a pipe even further underground (about a mile) through various layers of limestone, clay, and shale.

Then, it is injected into ground that already has a high salt concentration. Thankfully, the layers of earth between the reservoir and the deposit site serve as a barrier to the injection zone.

Richard Donat, an engineer who played a pivotal role in the development of the new water center, describes deep well injection as the most environmentally friendly solution to getting rid of the waste.

By forcing the salt deep underground, there is no need for a disruptive pipeline, which was previously considered as a solution during the developments of the project.

With a pipeline to a wastewater treatment plant in Dos Rios, the SAWS salt would ultimately damage the ecosystem once it ended up deposited into a lake or river.

Researchers had also considered the possibility of distributing the residual SAWS salt to be used on land, but that too, Donat argues, would have ended up being “detrimental to agriculture” because the high concentration of salt would decimate the environment over time.

Working Toward a Long-term Solution

The solution is not perfect, and there are many scientists and community members who have doubts about the method for attaining the brackish water.

To get to the river of salt water, a pipe has to cut through the fresh water reserve first, which could lead to complications and contamination.

Although the injection site is about a mile below the surface, with millions of tons of excess salt being deposited every year, it is possible that this solution could create problems over time.

With so much fracking in the area, which has already exacerbated dangers in the region’s natural geology, this daily source of extra pressure from salt deposits might not be sustainable.

It seems that the current method of forcing the solids underground at SAWS is truly the most considerate to the community and environment. However, it is imperative that the researchers continue their efforts so that they can effectively monitor the project long-term (2030 and beyond).

We Need More Fracking Water!

“Total water use for hydraulic fracturing in Texas in 2012 was an estimated 25 billion gallons—half of the total hydraulic fracturing-related water use nationwide that year,” says Monika Freyman of Ceres Report.

In a 2014 study about hydraulic fracturing in Texas, data indicate a relationship among water use, drought, and natural gas industry operations in the state.

Most notably, the report highlights how regions that include San Antonio and fracking operations in those areas both draw from the same limited water sources: the Carrillo and Wilcox Aquifers.

“Total water use for hydraulic fracturing in Texas in 2012 was an estimated 25 billion gallons” -Monika Freyman

The SAWS desalinization project is in part the result of 2013 measures approved by San Antonio area voters to help deal with impending droughts and water usage, partially due to demands presented by fracking and natural gas activities. In fact, the project was funded by “emergency funds” which were provided by oil and gas companies. While 70% of Texas is in a drought, the

In fact, the project was funded by “emergency funds” which were provided by oil and gas companies. While 70% of Texas is in a drought, the SAWS desalination center serves as a way to counter-balance, and even aid the gas industry, whose use of fracking is projected to steadily increase over the next ten years.

By pooling resources for common benefit and stability, both popular vote and industry contributions have implemented a sustainable solution to the water scarcity issue in the area.

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