Desal Tough Nut to Crack

Here in the Albuquerque metro area, there’s been a great deal of discussion about desalination of waster from deep brackish aquifers to provide new sources of supply. A lot of talk. But not much action, other than an interesting pilot-scale project now underway west of the community of Rio Rancho. The area is growing rapidly, but as the state’s newest city, it is last in line in terms of water rights. So the area’s county government, with financial support from developers, has drilled a well and is trying to develop the technology to make a go of it. But as my colleague Rosalie Rayburn reports (sub/ad req), the folks working on the project are trying to cope with some really tough problems:

Sandoval County officials are bullish on a brackish aquifer west of Rio Rancho.

They believe tests on desalination technology will show that the aquifer could be a catalyst for urban and rural economic development.

But they face big challenges.

The water has high levels of dissolved salts and minerals. Desalination to render it potable is an energy-intensive and costly process. Disposing of the waste byproducts is pricey, too.

While coastal desal is becoming increasingly important in the United States, the only other large inland desal plant (at least that I’m aware of) is in El Paso. Some of the same folks who did the El Paso plant are working with our project, and they note that the concentration of contaminants here is far higher:

CDM has engineering experience at a desalination plant in El Paso which can process 27 million gallons of water daily. But the Rio Puerco water has higher levels of salts and contains high levels of arsenic and radio-nucleides.

“I think it’s fair to say that the waste product at El Paso, the brine, is probably slightly higher quality than the water we’re starting with here,” CDM senior vice president Paul Gorder said.


  1. Pingback: jfleck at inkstain » Desal Tough Nut to Crack | Information Technology

  2. Another point to understand is that of the 27 mgd capacity of El Paso’s plant (when we visited there last summer) only 3 mgd (the minimum quantity possible to keep the plant operational) was being produced due to the high cost. When questioned on this point, they indicated that eventually the water will be valuable enough to warrant the current cost because of increasing demand. I particularly like Bosque Bill’s suggestion. Right now they dispose of the waste on military base lands. Good luck to Rio Rancho.

  3. Another way around this is to install duplicate supply systems, one for brackish/waste water apps like flushing the toilet. Might be easier and cheaper in the long run. Would probably work well enough for industrial cooling applications which might be the place to start.

Comments are closed.