Industry Money Is In Play Over Desalination—But It Isn’t Coming From “That” Industry

Corpus Christi Bay (Matt Pierce/Getty Images)

When it comes to saltwater desalination things tend to get a little bit tricky. Forget all of the science behind it, most of the argument seems to be about money and who should pay for what. When it comes to objections another big point from the opposition is that the voters should get to vote on the future of the plan and how or if it should even move ahead. But the real heart of the issue seems to be money.

When it came down to the fight to get the issue on the ballot a group known a “Save The Bay for The Greater Good” seems to champion the efforts.

They argue that industry is behind desal and that big money is influencing how the outcome will be. But their claims seem to counter balance when you look at their financial statement filed with the city back in July of 2020.

“Save The Bay CC” has a point and in fact, they make a very good point. But when it comes down to it, they are just as guilty of being influenced by big money as anybody and some even argue that their science based fact should be called into question just as much as the group is questioning the science behind desalination.

When it comes to money and “in-kind” contributions the trail goes right back to Austin. While opponents argue that out-of-town money from industry is influencing the charge to build the desalination plant, financials show that out-of-town money is flowing into the “local grassroots” campaign just as bad as the brine that they object about.

Records show that the Austin based environmental activism group registered as the Texas Campaign for The Environment contributed nearly $20,000 worth of in-kind contributions to the group for salaries and payroll alone. The group fronted at least another $10,000 to cover expenses like postage, cell phones and internet, printing costs and other expenses that were racked up while trying to get the desalination proposal on the ballot.

This past week The Southside Light News reached out to the Austin organization for an explanation. They did not respond for our request for comment.

The Texas Campaign For The Environment has been involved in some worthy causes in the past but the real question is why are local, grassroots campaigns making it appear as if they aren’t taking outside money while accusing local leaders of being bought off by industry? One could simply argue that these local organizations have they themselves been bought off by an industry in and of itself—the environmental lobby industry.

The science behind the environmental argument is that the desalination would increase the bay’s salinity. An objection to that is that area waters are already listed as being some of the most salivated waters in the world. The nearby Laguna Madre has a salinity. Because of the high salinity, the Laguna Madre holds the distinction as one of only six hypersalinized bodies of water on earth. So the question bears to ask are we dealing with a case of fact versus alternative fact or are we dealing with real science?

As it is the case is always hard to prove. Like with anything if you pay enough money you can get almost anyone to say almost anything. But the real question is if it is factual?

We dove into it and spoke with independent researchers from both sides who led us to the conclusion that there are pros and cons to each side.

The Oso Bay near Corpus Christi, Texas (Southside Light News)

“Five years ago there were something like 18,000 desalination plants worldwide, with a total production of around 22,870 million gallons per day (MGD),” said Nikol Vonderbrandt of the International Water Association. “You can hardly argue that this is a new technology.”

The IWA says that nearly 50% of this capacity (37.32 million m3/day or 9,860 MGD) is located in the Middle East and North Africa.

“Obviously with demand the US and Latin America will become even more heavily marketed for desalination plants and programs over the next 10-20 years,” says Vonderbrandt. “The question is always who is going to pay for it?”

Advances in desalination technology are closest in dynamics to that of a cell phone or smart phone. Scientists argue that like smart phones today, they are smaller, more productive and cheaper than the first working models of smartphones that came out in the very beginning. With new technologies, such as sedimentation and filtration, more efficient desalination membranes, innovative thermal membranes or hybrid desalination technologies, and equipment improvements, are released every few years. The end result is that like with everything systems and technology evolves and becomes cheaper and more effective.

Corpus Christi Bay near Corpus Christi, Texas (Matt Pierce/Getty Images)

There are more than a dozen different desalination projects currently operating in Texas both for desalinating groundwater and desalinating seawater from the Gulf of Mexico. While none of the desalination plants near the Gulf are currently being used to municipal water consumption, the Corpus Christi project would be a first on that front.

Data obtained from the World Health Organization shows that modern advances in membrane technology have made desalination of seawater and brackish waters an increasingly viable alternative to produce safe drinking-water. For example, desalination has been gaining foothold in the Eastern Mediterranean, along coastal areas of Australia, on the West Coast of the USA and in many Small Island States including Singapore and Maldives where potable water is at a premium.

Experts caution that while technology has increased and health guidance points towards theological safety, experts do cation that desalination is not a panacea for the problem.

It does take a lot of energy to produce and with Texas becoming a leader in wind and renewable energy, it could end up being that technologies combine down the road and end up creating a better solution that anybody can even imagine. But then again, that would not be a good outcome for the environmental advocacy industry that makes money and funnels money to organizations that exist to simply oppose industrial progress.

Facts are facts depending on where they originate from. But the fact is that while local opponents argue that local leaders are being influenced by industry money, they themselves are existing off the generosity of the environmental advocacy industry themselves. That is a conflict in and of itself.