Statement of David Murillo, Deputy Commissioner, Operations
U.S. Department of the Interior
Natural Resources Committee
Subcommittee on Water and Power
U.S. House of Representatives
To Reauthorize the Water Desalination Act of 1996
April 17, 2012
Chairman McClintock, members of the Subcommittee, I am David Murillo, Deputy Commissioner for Operations at the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation). I am pleased to provide the views of the Department of the Interior (Department) on HR 2664, legislation to reauthorize the Water Desalination Act of 1996, Public Law 104-298 (Desalination Act). The Department supports this bill with the clarification described below.
The original Desalination Act divided the authorization for program activities into two areas. Desalination research and studies were authorized in section three of the Desalination Act, and demonstration and development were authorized in section four of the Desalination Act. Appropriations for these two programs were included in section eight of the Desalination Act. Sections three and four are active parts of the program as implemented today.
As introduced, HR 2664 amends section eight of the Desalination Act to extend the appropriation for research and studies through the year 2016, and authorizes additional funding for demonstration and development, allocating a maximum of $2 million per year through 2016. Since introduction of HR 2664 in July of 2011, a separate extension of the Desalination Act's authority was adopted in the Fiscal Year 2012 omnibus appropriations bill, Public Law 112-74. It is our understanding that the bill sponsors intend to revise HR 2664 to provide for the program's reauthorization for five years beyond the current expiration date at the end of FY 2013. However, we recommend clarifications to section 2(d)(2) of the bill in order to be consistent with the annual funding level in Public Law 112-74.
The bill is consistent with the existing Desalination and Water Purification Research and Development (DWPR) Program implemented by Reclamation. The Desalination Act and its subsequent extensions1 have given Reclamation the authority to support studies and projects across the country to advance the state of the art in desalination technology and lower the cost of desalinated water. These efforts are coordinated under the DWPR Program under our Research and Development Office in Denver, Colorado. The program supports work on innovations under cooperative agreements that require a minimum 50 percent non-federal cost share. Non-federal funding underlies the majority share of the Program's projects, with an exception for institutions of higher learning where up to $1 million may be provided without cost share.
The program's accomplishments are numerous, and some of the recent highlights include:
- Originally proposed to be a means of extracting water from saline groundwater using the natural temperature cycle as the driving force, the natural freeze-thaw process is currently commercialized as a process to reduce the quantities of impaired water produced by coal bed methane production. The last testing on treatment of saline groundwater by this process was completed in August 2002.2
- The DWPR program funded a consortium of membrane manufacturers to evaluate and establish a "standard" diameter for large reverse osmosis elements. This increases the economy of scale and reduces the costs and footprint. This 16-inch standard is currently being adopted for several plants overseas and is contemplated for several American plants. The project was completed in September 2004.3
- A DWPR project in Corpus Christi, Texas, was among the first to demonstrate that membrane filtration provided more reliable pretreatment for a seawater reverse osmosis plant than conventional clarification and filtration. This is becoming the method of choice for large-scale seawater desalination systems. This project was completed in September 2004.4
- Slant wells were tested for a seawater intake in Orange County. This novel approach to seawater intake under the seafloor avoids environmental issues like impingement and entrapment and is planned for use in a new seawater desalination plant. It is expected this technique will make California permitting for seawater desalination quicker. This phase of the work on the plant was completed in April 2008.5
- With funding from Reclamation's DWPR Program, Eastern Municipal Water District in Perris, California, in cooperation with Corollo Engineering, carried out a landmark comparative study of how to dispose of concentrate, the salt remainder from an inland desalting plant. The disposal of salt from inland desalters is currently a major part of the capital and operating costs. This study was completed in September 2007.6
In addition to extending the program's sunset and funding levels, HR 2664 also specifies certain research objectives and provides cost recovery authorities which Reclamation will apply at the Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Research Facility (Facility) in Otero County, New Mexico. Reclamation is partnered with New Mexico State University in a four-year research program with projects at or associated with the Facility focused on research, education, and outreach in water desalination.
Not every proposal for research develops into a viable product, and some proposals prove unsuited to further development, but that is part of the reality of technology research. The DWPR Program provides Reclamation the authority to do meaningful work in order to develop new technology that lowers the end cost of desalinated water, and enables communities to diversify their sources of water supply. The Department supports the continued extension of the authority via HR 2664 with the clarification suggested here.
This concludes my written statement. I am pleased to answer questions at the appropriate time.
1Extensions of PL 104-298 are found in PL 108-7, PL 109-13, PL 109-103, PL 110-5, and P.L. 112-74.
2DWPR Report No. 71.
3DWPR Report No. 114. DWPR reports can be downloaded from
4DWPR Report No. 106.
5DWPR Reports No. 151, 152 and 153.
6DWPR Report No. 149.