Seminole to Tap Salty Aquifer For Drinking Water

by / July 21, 2008


Seminole, Texas, draws its drinking water from the depleting Ogallala Aquifer, so the city is exploring new sources, including the deeper Santa Rosa Aquifer. But there's a problem: The Santa Rosa is brackish - a mixture of seawater and fresh water. To treat the water, the state's Office of Rural Community Affairs, Texas Tech University and Seminole are partnering to build a first-of-its-kind system to desalinate inland ground water using wind power. We spoke to Texas Tech professor Ken Rainwater, director of the university's Water Resources Center, about the $1 million pilot program.

Is it difficult to meld desalination technologies with wind turbines?

We have existing technologies on both the land and water side; we're just bringing them together by using a [50-kilowatt wind turbine to power a reverse osmosis plant]. The target area that we're thinking about, typically the people have used shallow, fresh ground water with minimal treatment - just disinfection. So their main cost was pumping the water out of the ground and putting a little chlorine in it and putting it in the distribution system. What's happening now is for some of these places in our region, the drinking water standards have changed and some of them have issues with things like arsenic, for example - that's one of the things about a year and a half ago that a lot of places are in violation of when the standard dropped from 50 ppm [parts per million] to 10 ppm. The other thing is that some of the places with shallow ground water, the well fields they have are declining, and they are concerned about other supplies for the future. Reverse osmosis can handle stuff like that, so we're just trying to bring them together.

Will it cost Seminole more to treat brackish water?

The Santa Rosa [Aquifer] is deeper and less is known about it, but it hasn't been exploited as drinking water. It tends to be brackish in terms of water quality - sometimes even worse than that. If it's going to be used, you would have to reduce the dissolved solids there. So since these communities are going to have to address some additional treatment costs, and perhaps well and pumping costs, one of the things that was realized early on is that from about a third to one-half of the cost of desalination - essentially with reverse osmosis or something else - is energy. If you can make the local community the owner of its own renewable energy generation system through wind power, then they don't feel the cost the same way. Plus, they can perhaps sell excess energy back to the grid if that's viable in their location.

How does the cost compare to surface-level drinking water?

If you put together a system to provide 1 million gallons per day and you accounted for everything you've done in terms of amortizing out the wind turbines, the cost of energy, the cost of pumping in transmission for the water, and the cost of treatment for the water, you get on the order of $5 per thousand gallons.

For the small municipalities, it's just been pumping it from wells and disinfecting it [in the past]. Their cost would've probably been only $1.50 or less [per thousand gallons].

Are other Texas municipalities expressing interest in the system?

We've had a couple of workshops and people have shown up, but we haven't really had a real group step forward like Seminole again, yet. We did a survey a year and a half ago, and we found a number of communities that are in violation of one of the primary or secondary drinking water standards that is primarily ground water-dependent. They're going to have to do


Still, for the wind side, a lot of communities are considering making wind power part of their assets because of their energy costs and it's renewable.

When will the system go online in Seminole?

It's taken us three years to just assemble the funding. It will probably be [operational] in the next 12 to 18 months.

Outer Limits News Items

Lone Ranger

It seems every year a bigger and faster supercomputer is unleashed. This year is no exception. In March, Sun Microsystems and the Texas Advanced Computing Center announced the arrival of "Ranger," a supercomputer that boasts 500 teraflops of computing muscle.

Ranger's innards are enough to impress even the most jaded supercomputer observers (the three of you know who you are). The monster computer has 82 Sun Blade 6048 Modular Systems racks; each rack contains 48 Sun Fire 6000 Blade Servers. Ranger also features 15,744 AMD quad-core processors, 1.7 petabytes of storage capacity and 125 terabytes of memory. The supercomputer also serves as a link between two Sun data center switches with an average bandwidth of 110 terabits.

What will Ranger's computing power be used for? Engineers, astronomers - even oil field explorers - are clamoring for access to Ranger to feed the machine their complex calculations. Additionally the open architecture of the Sun machine means Ranger can be easily scaled to whatever a job requires.

"Without a doubt, Ranger is the most powerful general-purpose supercomputing system for research ever," said Jay Boisseau, director of the University of Texas at Austin's Texas Advanced Computing Center, in a Sun video.

DNA Used to Investigate Abuse
The shocking story of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints near San Angelo made headlines nationwide. But polygamy was hardly the most worrisome allegation surrounding the cult's activities. Texas authorities are investigating claims that some 400 underage girls, all of whom lived within the religious sect's Eldorado compound, were sexually abused.

Thankfully investigators no longer rely solely on witness testimony or evidence found at the scene. Instead, all girls removed from the cult will undergo cheek swabs, which will then be analyzed for DNA. Officials will also test the sect's male members to determine whether any of the underage girls were impregnated by them or are victims of incest.

The DNA test results could go a long way toward proving allegations of sexual abuse. On the other hand, the tests could show no abuse took place, as cult members claim. Either way, Texas investigators hope the tests shed light on what is a very mysterious case.

"Now not only can we look at alleged relationships between parents and their children, but now we can look at alleged sibships [siblings], alleged half-sibships [half brothers and sisters]," Oklahoma State University biochemistry associate professor Robert Allen told Fox News.

Night Lights
Stephenville recently found itself the epicenter of a fascinating and oft-maligned phenomenon - UFO sightings. Earlier this year, numerous residents from in and around Stephenville reported witnessing bright, multicolored lights that moved across the Texas sky in unusual patterns and at tremendous speeds.

From Jan. 8 through March, local authorities and the Stephenville Empire-Tribune received dozens of reports from amazed - and terrified - townspeople. Many people took photos and videos of the events, and the story made global headlines.

What sets apart the Stephenville Lights, as the events are now known, is that several credible people witnessed the strange happenings, including Erath County Constable Lee Roy Gaitan. He appeared on Larry King Live, snapped photos of the lights, which he claimed bounced around the night sky before coming together in formation and rapidly flying out of sight.

Fomenting more controversy

is the military's initial claim that there were no flights in the area at the time of the first sightings. However, days later the Air Force issued a release that said it was mistaken and there were, in fact, 10 F-16s flying in formation on a training mission.

Porcine Problem
They come in packs, many of them more than 3 feet tall and 400-plus pounds. They ravage feedstock and destroy farmland. They're loud, strong and violent. They boast large, sharp tusks that will gore anyone or anything that tries to stop them. What are these beasts? Feral hogs. And the hogs are wrecking havoc on farmers in Texas and throughout the South.

There are more than 2 million feral hogs in Texas. With no natural predators and a penchant for reproduction, the hogs are invading farms to gorge on livestock feed and tear up the soil. The hogs' origins can be traced back to a crossbreeding of escaped domestic hogs and Russian boars brought to Texas in the 1930s. The resulting animals are resilient and difficult to manage - there's no limit on hunting the creatures.

But Texas A&M researchers are taking a different shot at corralling the hogs. Though still in lab trials, university scientists have created "the pill" for pigs. The oral contraceptive has been fed to hogs in the lab. Once ingested, the pill's active ingredient - a phosphodiesterase 3 inhibitor - prevents the female hog's eggs from developing.

University officials said if trials outside the lab are successful, hog-weary farmers can expect to see the pig pill in action in as few as three years.


Chad Vander Veen

Chad Vander Veen previously served as the editor of FutureStructure, and the associate editor of Government Technology and Public CIO magazines.

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