Hampton to Research Desalination Costs

Councilman Wants to Explore Whether the City Could Get Water More Cheaply from a Plant than from the Future King William Reservoir

City councilman, Randy Gilliland wants to know what it would cost to build a desalination plant for drinking water in Hampton, Va., the Daily Press reported.

Gilliland said he's concerned that Hampton taxpayers will be paying higher water bills in the coming years to help pay for a new reservoir in King William county, essentially subsidizing growth in suburban counties.

According to him, he's not trying to raise another hurdle for the city's current water provider, Newport News Waterworks, before it builds the reservoir on the Middle Peninsula. "I'm just curious about it's applicability and the possibility of using it in Hampton," he said.

Gilliland, stressed that so far it's just an idea and it may not go anywhere. "It may be completely impractical," he said, "but I woke up one morning and said 'James City County does this, what are the economics of this?'"

James City County expects a $20 million desalination plant to be up and running next spring, purifying drinking water for its 17,000 customers, according to the Daily Press.

Newport News Waterworks serves nearly 400,000 residents on the Peninsula, primarily in Newport News and Hampton. Waterworks has been using a desalination plant to provide some of its water for six years.

Waterworks owns the water lines in Hampton and deals directly with Hampton residents. The Hampton City Council has no authority over the waterworks, which is run by Newport News City Council, according to the Daily Press.

The natural resources manager for Newport News Waterworks, Dave Morris, who has spearheaded the city's push for the new reservoir in King William County, said previous studies have found that removing salt from water is expensive.

Newport News Waterworks gets most of its water from several reservoirs. It spent $17 million to build a desalination plant in 1998 to treat groundwater.

According to Morris, about 10 percent of Waterworks' water supply comes from the desalination plant. Purifying ground water is cheaper than doing that for water from area rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. The saltier the water, the more electricity used in the purification process and the higher the price tag, Morris said.

"Problem is," he added, "there's not enough ground water to meet our future supply. That's why we're looking at the reservoir."

Daily Press

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