Alice hires Florida firm to design, build desalination plant

Kathryn Cargo Corpus Christi Caller
The Nueces River Authority will get a look at a proposal by the City of Alice to create a brackish desalination plant. This is a layout of the proposed facility.

Alice city officials have laid the ground work to create their own primary water source -- one that they hope will be cheaper than buying water from Corpus Christi.

The Alice City Council recently selected Seven Seas Water Corp. to design and build a brackish desalination plant within its city limits, a statement Monday from the Florida-based company said.

Alice, a city of roughly 19,200 residents, is heavily influenced by both agriculture and energy, and has been buying water from Corpus Christi since 1962.

Alice officials want their own water system because of concerns with rising pumping costs from Corpus Christi, according to Alice's funding application to the Texas Water Development Board.

Alice will pay Seven Seas Water Corp. about $2.20 per 1,000 gallons of water over a 15-year period, said Richard Whiting, the company's vice president of business development.

The Tampa-based company will finance, design, build, own, operate and maintain a brackish water reverse osmosis plant on city owned land, he said.

The city is expected to use 3 million gallons of water a day, Whiting said. That comes out to about $12 million that the city will pay Seven Seas Water over a 15-year period.

"We understand from previous studies done by the city of Alice (our cost) is a lower cost than the cost of buying rural water from Corpus Christi and treating it," Whiting said.

After the contract expires, Alice will take over the ownership and operations of the facility at no additional cost, he said.

Messages to City Manager Michael Esparza weren't immediately returned Monday.

Previous concerns about drought also were behind Alice's efforts to build a water facility, Esparza told Caller-Times in July 2019.

"If we don't have enough water coming in, our residents don’t have water. We're looking for an uninterrupted water source," Esparza said at the time.

Esparza also had said the city wouldn't stop buying water from Corpus Christi.

Alice provides water to its residents on an as-needed basis through a month-to-month agreement with Corpus Christi. Alice only pays for the water pumped from a reservoir, according to its funding application to the water board.

In July 2019, the Texas Water Development Board approved roughly $5.5 million for the project's first phase. This includes about $4 million in loans and a $1.5 million grant.

Once the groundwater system is developed, Alice plans to use water from Corpus Christi only when demand exceeds the capacity of its own source.

Eventually, its groundwater will be blended with water from the Choke Canyon supply.

Alice will use property tax and a lien on utility revenues to repay the loans.

State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa has said Alice's decision is a long-term investment for its future.

Texas has a large resource of underground brackish water, he said. The state has funded roughly 50 water plants to process this kind of water using reverse osmosis.

Corpus Christi also supplies water to Beeville, Mathis, the Violet Water Supply Corp., the South Texas Water Authority, the San Patricio Municipal Water District and the Nueces County Water Control and Improvement District.