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Construction on SAWS desalination plant well underway

12 million gallons per day expected by 2016

SAN ANTONIO – Heavy equipment is grinding away and workers are swarming over the site of the San Antonio Water System's water desalination plant on the South Side as planners report steady progress in the construction.

Richard Donat, a SAWS planner, said no major obstacles have arisen so far.

"Construction's going great right now," Donat said. "We're about 25 percent complete. We started in May earlier this year. Currently, we're completing the administration building."

Two-hundred piers have been installed deep in the sandy soil and beams are being constructed to hold the building.

Wells will be dug deep into the brackish Wilcox Aquifer for treatment.

"We're going to drill an additional four production wells that are about 1,500-feet deep to produce the raw Wilcox water," Donat said. "We're piping it to this area where the treatment plant is. From there, we're going to treat it with reverse osmosis."

Phase 1, costing $192 million, will be complete in 2016, and will produce 12 million gallons a day.

Phase 2, at $158 million, will be finished in 2021, allowing production of 24 million gallons and Phase 3, with a cost of $60 million in 2026, will bring the plant's capacity to 30 million gallons a day.

"Next year is when a lot of the major activity is going to begin and be completed," Donat said. "We're going to be laying over nine miles of pipe through this area."

The plant being built is loosely based on one that's been operating for 10 years in El Paso, taking brackish water out of the Chihuahua desert and making it drinkable. In El Paso, the utility company also takes salty, brackish water from an aquifer and filters out the salt through thin membranes. That water is desperately needed in that desert city.

Now, the lessons learned in El Paso will be put to use here where, as SAWS president and CEO Robert Puente said, water is also a precious commodity.

"Water's very important," Puente said. "Water is obviously one of the things that you cannot live without."

When the third phase of the plant is completed in 2026, it will be the largest inland water desalination plant in the nation.