Water Scarcity and Industrial Demand Intensify in South Texas as Chemical Plant Purchases Last River Water

In South Texas, the intersection of water scarcity and clean energy initiatives has come to the forefront as Avina Clean Hydrogen Inc., a chemical company, acquires the last available shares of water from the Nueces River. This purchase, intended to support the company's new green ammonia plant, has sparked significant concerns among local officials in Corpus Christi about potential impacts on the regions water supply, which is already under strain from a prolonged drought and increased industrial demand.

Electrolysis platform used for the production of hydrogen

Water Scarcity and Industrial Demand Intensify in South Texas as Chemical Plant Purchases Last River Water

In a striking example of the tension between economic development and environmental sustainability, Avina Clean Hydrogen Inc., a New Jersey-based chemical company, has acquired the last available water from the Nueces River in South Texas. This purchase is for the company’s Nueces Green Ammonia plant, which aims to transform hydrogen extracted from water into ammonia, positioning it as a high-tech alternative fuel for export. This plant is among several projects stimulated by federal subsidies intended to encourage a shift away from fossil fuels.

However, the project has ignited concerns about regional water scarcity, particularly as drought conditions persist and reservoirs dwindle. Corpus Christi officials have expressed alarm that the additional water demand from Avina's operations could jeopardize the water supply for over 600,000 local customers. Ryan Skrobarczyk, Corpus Christi’s director of intergovernmental relations, highlighted the urgency in a memo, noting that “increased water drawn solely from the Nueces River system could dramatically increase the potential for scarcity.” He stressed the need for precise monitoring to prevent further drought restrictions.

Over the past decade, Corpus Christi has sold substantial amounts of water from the Nueces River to various industrial users, hoping that new large desalination plants would support this increased demand. However, these facilities have yet to be built, and the city's water reserves have been significantly strained. Residents have faced over 600 days of water-use restrictions, with reservoir levels falling below one-third capacity.

The only other significant water right in the area is held by the Nueces County Water Improvement and Control District #3, which includes the towns of Calallen and Robstown. These rights, dating back to 1909 and originally intended for agricultural irrigation, have largely been dormant until Avina secured a contract to use 5.5 million gallons of treated water daily for the next 25 years.

Marcos Alaniz, general manager of the District, conveyed his resignation to the situation, acknowledging the legal inability to refuse Avina's water use despite potential impacts on the community. Avina's spokesperson, Karen White, emphasized the company’s commitment to responsible water use, including implementing dry cooling and water recycling techniques in the plant's design.

Yet, the prospect of rising water costs remains a concern. Corpus Christi City Manager Peter Zanoni warned that the Avina project's substantial water usage could lead to higher water rates for all city residents. As tensions mount, the dialogue between industrial growth and sustainable water management continues to unfold, underscoring the complex challenges faced by communities navigating the realities of clean energy transitions and environmental preservation.

This story is published in partnership with Inside Climate News, a nonprofit, independent news organization that covers climate, energy, and the environment.

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