Despite our recent rains, water is a growing concern here on the South Plains, especially as a major supplier continues to drop. This year, 11 cities will lose more than a billion gallons of water from Lake Meredith. Eight of those communities are right here on the South Plains, including Lubbock, Plainview, and Levelland.
The Canadian River Municipal Water Authority cut the 2008 allotment due to dwindling water levels at the lake which is north of Amarillo. Now, researchers are testing a new, untapped resource right here in our area.
Researchers from Texas Tech University have partnered with city leaders in Seminole on a pilot project to make salt water from the Santa Rosa aquifer drinkable. If the project is a success, it could be an answer for water needs across the state and across the country.
"At some point in time we're going to have to look for an alternative water source in this region," former Seminole Mayor Michael Carter said.
Carter left office after the May elections, but for the past three years he's been working with Texas Tech on a new way to provide fresh water for the city.
"We have high hopes," Carter said.
Seminole, like many west Texas towns, pumps its drinking water from the Ogallala Aquifer, which is rapidly being depleted. This new project would go deeper into the ground, pumping salt water from the Santa Rosa Aquifer, but first it has to be cleansed.
"One of the major cost issues is the energy to drive the process." TTU Wind Science & Engineering Research Center Professor Andrew Swift said.
The cost to run a reverse osmosis plant to meet the water needs for a city the size of Seminole would just cost way too much. That's why they're turning to something that Seminole has a lot of, wind, to power this project.
"It's a clean, domestic, renewable source of energy," Swift said.
A 50-kilowatt wind turbine will help power the reverse osmosis plant. Carter says it could produce up to 30,000 gallons a day for the city.
"We'd like to think that this is kind of the first step in something that could be helpful regionally, nationally and maybe internationally," Swift said.
If the project proves successful, Seminole eventually plans to install three-megawatts of wind turbines to power a plant large enough to treat a future peak demand of three-million gallons a day.
"I can't think of any project across the whole region that would be more beneficial to the South Plains," Carter said.
The Office of Rural Community Affairs and the Texas Water Development Board have already awarded grants to help fund this project. Organizers tell us that Congressman Randy Neugebauer and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison have also thrown their support behind the project.
Right now they're ironing some of the details, including where to drill. NewsChannel 11 will keep you updated on the progress.
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