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Coming Soon: Tularosa Basin National Desalination Facility to  test new technologies

By Elva K. Österreich, News Editor
Mar 20, 2005, 12:19 am

On Alamogordo’s LaVelle Road a facility designed to create hope for the future is being built.

Nate Gentry, who is on the Council on Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., has authorized and funded the Tularosa Basin National Desalination Research Facility through the energy and appropriations bill.

“The Alamogordo facility is where the Bureau of Reclamation can test water desalination technologies,” Gentry said. “Alamogordo overlies the Tularosa Basin which has large quantities brackish water. The ultimate objective is to drive down the cost (of desalination) by looking at energy costs and brine disposal costs.”
Funding for the completion of the facility is not yet in place, Gentry said.

The facility will be the first inland facility of its kind focused on inland brackish water in the United States, said Mike Hightower of Sandia Laboratories during a September 2004 tour of the layout of the future facility.

“ThePurification system, a project facility will be set up to look at different inland issues,” Hightower said. Energy sources and concentrate management are two of the issues Hightower mentioned the facility could be looking at.
“This area was chosen because the Tularosa Basin has wide varieties of salination,” Hightower said.

The parcel of Alamogordo city land the facility is being built on has several wells from 2,000 total dissolved solids (TDS) to 4,000 to 6,000 TDS.

One of the issues the facility will be dealing with is total dissolved solids in water, Hightower said they will have the capability to go up to 25,000 TDS.

Also, Hightower said, the Basin has both calcium sulfate and calcium carbonate in it’s water which are difficult to deal with.

“The Basin has a vast quantity of challenging water,” Hightower said.

The first project to come to facility, even before it is completed, will be a U.S. Marine Corps study, the Expeditionary Unit Water Purification System.
“The EUWPs will be using all the water we have for three to six months,” Hightower said.

Treated water from the facility goes to Alamogordo, Hightower said.
“We’re looking at 500 acre-feet a year,” he said.

However, Hightower wanted to make clear the facility is not a municipal water supply system. Describing the planned facility, Hightower said there will be research areas and an education area. A catwalk will go alongside the two-story tall research portion so visitors can see what is going on.

“We can have up to 10 tests at one time,” Hightower said. “Six inside and three outside.”

The facility provides a place for visiting researchers.

“We see this as a national facility, not only for research but for education,” Hightower said.

The entities putting together the facility have not determined who is ultimately going to operate it, Hightower said.

“The day-to-day ops are not decided yet,” he said.

Some of the things the facility will be looking at include reverse osmosis issues. For example a client might want to be looking at new technologies for higher performance RO membranes, Hightower said.

The big RO issue is what to do with the concentrated byproduct produced by the process. As RO takes solids out of water, the leftover material is a problem.
Research could be done to create some kind of matrix for the solids.

“If we could get the salt into a matrix we can use it for road beds,” Hightower said. “This is not set up as a ‘membrane research facility’ for desalination. we are trying not to limit ourselves.”

Research engineer for the Bureau of Reclamation, Bill Beller, said the construction for the facility is progressing in phases. The contractor, Laguna Construction, has been completing the first phase.

“The dirt work, preparing pads for construction, foundations for storage tubes, wells drilled and evaporative ponds are being done,” Beller said.