EL PASO, Texas - The Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination plant on the east side is the world's largest inland desalination plant. It is the largest based on how many millions of gallons of clean water it can produce on a given day- capable of cleaning a whopping 27.5 million gallons per day, the equivalent of 416 Olympic size swimming pools.
"What we're showing the world is that desalination in areas away from the ocean is possible," Gilbert Trejo, the Interim Chief Operations Officer for EP Water, said.
However, that number isn't always met, as the amount of water produced is based on customer needs. For example, in June, before the start of the Monsoon, the water demand is high, and more gallons of clean water are produced. Once the Monsoon gets going, and other water sources start to fill up, such as the Rio Grande and canals, the water produced at Kay Bailey is not as high.
Customers on the east side and Fort Bliss are the primary water receivers from Kay Bailey. However, once the water is treated at Kay Bailey, it mixes in with other clean water that comes from other treatment plants. Therefore, it is unlikely that if you live on the east side, you are getting desalinated water and desalinated water only- instead, a variety of water sources.
Hector Sepulveda is the Assistant Superintendent at Kay Bailey Hutchison. He explains how the desalination process works:
"We take what's called brackish water, a groundwater- that is water underground in an aquifer- that is very salty, too salty for human consumption. We bring that water into the plant, and through our reverse osmosis membranes, we separate the minerals in the water from the water so that the water that actually passes through the membranes has a whole lot less minerals in it."
Those membranes are how the whole process is functional. The material in the membranes collects and separates the ions in the various salts from the water and pushes out the much less salty water.
"About 80% of the water that we push through these membranes will actually make it through this collection pipe (pointing to the pipe in the center of the membrane). All the water that comes out of this is called permeate; that is the water that is taken to our final process station," Sepulveda stated.
Throughout the process, and several times per day, water samples are collected to ensure the water composition is coming out correctly.
The reason why KBH is the world's largest plant is that we have the perfect place to dispose of wastewater. As the water is cleaned from the various salts, there's a small amount of leftover water that becomes extremely salty and must be disposed of in an area far away from natural water sources. 22 miles away from KBH and 4,000 feet underground is a fissure where that extra salty waste water is easily disposed of. Most other desalination plants in the world have many difficulties getting rid of waste.