Men's Breakfast, February 6, 2016

The Men’s Breakfast Group met Saturday, February 6th with Larry Nutt, assistant general manager of the Brazosport Water Authority (BWA).  Larry worked several years for the Texas Department of Corrections.  He was in charge of the water treatment plant at a prison when he retired from the prison system.  He was hired by BWA because he had a waste water treatment license.  He then rose to the position of assistant general manager in charge of administration.  Another assistant general manager is in charge of operations.

The Brazosport Water Authority exists to provide drinking water, primarily treated Brazos river water, to the cities of Brazosport.  BWA is owned by the member cities, Angleton, Brazoria, Clute, Freeport, Lake Jackson, Oyster Creek, and Richwood.  Each city appoints a director for a two year term.  In addition to the member cities, BWA provides water to Dow Chemical Company and two prison units. 

BWA has the capacity to treat 17 million gallons per day of water.  The cities are contracted to buy 8.5 million gallons per day on a take-or-pay basis.  The cities can buy extra if they need to or can use water from their own wells to supplement the BWA water.  The BWA treats Brazos river water by coagulation and filtration.  They then add chlorine and phosphate. 

Phosphate is added to prevent corrosion, especially of lead.  The crisis in Flint Michigan is because they tried to save money by not adding phosphate.  Flint is an old city so it has a lot of lead pipes.  The Brazosport cities do not have lead pipes so this is not as much of a problem.  However, lead can come from solder used with copper pipes and brass fixtures.  Therefore phosphate is added as a precaution.  When the water authority was first set up there was discussion about whether BWA should add phosphate or to leave it up to the individual cities to add phosphate.  Larry says that the water from BWA is at pH 7 and free from iron.  Water from the tap is slightly alkaline as indicated by turning red wine or red cabbage juice blue.  It also sometimes contains iron as shown by the yellow flock that accumulates at the bottom of water pitchers kept in the refrigerator.  Larry claims that these contaminants are from the well water that the cities mix with the BWA water.

One major project now being started is to provide water to Rosenberg.  This requires increasing the size of the plant and building a pipeline to Rosenberg.  The plan is to build a 42-inch pipeline north of Angleton and smaller lines further north.  BWA believes that other cities north of Angleton will eventually need BWA water so this section of pipe will support future growth.  Rosenberg needs surface water because Fort Bend County is requiring Rosenberg to reduce or cease pumping ground water in a couple of years.  Rosenberg has acquired water rights for Brazos river water even senior to the BWA rights so BWA will actually be treating Rosenberg’s water.    
Various entities have rights to Brazos river water.  The priority is given to earlier claimants.  Dow has one of the earliest rights.  BWA has acquired later Dow rights.  The total rights are greater than the flow of the river, especially during times of drought.  During the past drought, upstream users have taken more than their allowed water leaving none for BWA even though BWA had greater rights to the water.  A water master has been appointed to supervise and enforce water rights for the Brazos River.  This was done by the Texas Legislature in spite of the opposition of upstream cities.  The water master may be able to enforce our water rights. 

There was a question about reusing treated sewage for drinking water.  Larry said that some cities are doing this and that this reduces the amount of water coming down the river.  BWA is actually an expert in using sewage because almost all the Brazos has gone through a municipal water plant and been returned to the river as treated sewage before it gets here.

The other big project is the desalination plant.  Bonds were approved by the member cities to build the plant.  These bonds have been sold and the money is earning interest until needed for building the plant.  The reverse osmosis plant will be built in stages.  The building housing the plant will be built to allow a plant of 12 million gallons per day capacity.  The first stage of the project will be a 4 million gallon per day unit and the second will be a 6 million gallon per day plant to be built after the first unit goes on line.  The last 2 million gallon unit has not been budgeted for and will be built in the future as needed.   Because the desalinated water will be more expensive than river water the plan is to mix only two million gallons per day into the supply unless river water is not available.  The desalinated water is more expensive than river water because of the cost of the energy required to push water through the reverse osmosis membranes. 

The desalination plant will use brackish water drawn from an aquifer about 200 feet below the surface.  This is well below the fresh water aquifer that provides well water for the cities.  The brackish water has about a third of the salt content of sea water so pressures and energy cost are about 40% of the cost of desalinating seawater.  A waste brine stream will be generated containing the salt removed from the water.  BWA is fortunate in that it can dump the brine into the Brazos.  The waste brine is less contaminated than the river at this point so it actually improves the river.  Upstream desalination plants have to dispose of brine with deep injection wells.  The fresh water from the reverse osmosis plant will be essentially distilled water.  It will be mixed with river water or have minerals added to it to improve the taste and to reduce the corrosiveness of the water.  One problem with using pumped water is subsidence.  Larry said that a consultant determined that there will be only 2 inches of subsidence at the plant after fifty years.  Three brackish water wells will be drilled, two on the plant site and one on the other side of the Brazos.  The spacing will reduce the subsidence. 

The men had an interesting discussion and a good breakfast.  The next meeting will be March 12th.