Mentone, the lone city of the least populated county in the nation, consumes about 25,000 gallons of drinking water per day. That’s about as much as it would take to fill a small- to moderately-sized swimming pool.
But finding quality freshwater still proves a challenge in the semi-arid climate, so Loving County officials are turning to a desalination project that represents the first of its kind in the United States, according to a Wednesday news release from the County Judge Skeet Jones. Officials plan to present the project at 11 a.m. today at 300 East Collins Street in Mentone.
The project includes an evaporative desalination unit and a solar power plant that will be able to treat brackish water. Right now, the county gets its water from a well roughly six miles outside of the city that pumps up to six gallons a minute.
“They can’t grow at all right now, because they’ve tapped out their entire water system and there’s nowhere to go to get water,” said James Busby, a civil engineer with the firm Burgess and Niple, which is managing the project.
The switch should not affect water rates of the 84 residents, Busby said. And the water in the brackish aquifer the county will draw from, the Pecos Alluvium, contains a lot of brackish water – more than 116 million acre feet, according to the Texas Water Development Board.
The desalination unit is called a DyVAR, manufactured by the company SaltTech based in the Netherlands. Busby said it could also treat produced water from an oil well but will not be used for that purpose. Unlike the more common reverse osmosis water treatments used in places like Odessa water stores, the more expensive DyVAR technology uses a self-cleaning “special cyclone chambers” that condense pure water from steam and concentrate brine for disposal.
That better equips the project to handle the sulfates plentiful in the water, Busby said.
The total $3.5 million project is funded by the county and a $600,000 grant from the Bureau of Reclamation through a WaterSMART initiative promoting water treatment programs incorporating renewable technology. Loving County’s share of the funding comes from tax revenue — all most all of which stems from increases oil and gas activity.
Since the project represents a new process, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality requires a pilot test to determine the treated water meets drinking standards. Loving County officials anticipate testing will begin in two or three weeks and last about six months before they get approval to put the treated water in the drinking system.
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