New system may solve West Texas water woes

Tommy Ervin, president of Ector County Utility District, cuts the ribbon on a desalination system in West Odessa Thursday. (Courtesy Photo)

Water-starved communities in West Texas, including parts of Odessa, could soon have clean, inexpensive drinking water on tap, thanks to an environmentally-friendly desalination system that can remove pollutants from oilfield water.

More than three-dozen county and city leaders attended a ribbon-cutting and system demonstration held on a West Odessa property at 5016 Johnson Road on Thursday.

“For years we’ve been talking about taking water in the oil fields and turning it into drinking water,” said Tommy Ervin, president of West Texas Water Infrastructure and Ector County Utility District. “We believe with this system we can do that.

“We’re still in the research stage. We’ll keep an eye on how it works at this site. The next step will be to make it bigger and more efficient and then we’ll offer these systems to communities like Odessa, Crane, Rankin and Imperial.”

The system is the brainchild of MI Systems, which created the technology in 2014. The system was originally used in other countries to help clean their polluted waters, MI Chief Operations Officer Chad Unray said.

A couple of years ago the company began looking at other ways the system could be used, including cleaning oil field water, Unray said.

“Our goal is treating groundwater as efficiently as possible with as little waste as possible,” he said. Currently, the system has “a 95 percent efficiency rate with only five gallons” leftover as waste.

At a cost of $3 per gallon per 100 gallons, the desalinization process is inexpensive, Ervin said.

Ector County Judge Debi Hays, who attended Thursday’s event, called the system “a miracle.”

“It’s like watching a miracle come true,” Hays said. “To see a system that can provide drinking water to communities that haven’t had this is just a blessing.”

Hays said the system has the potential to spur economic growth in West Texas.

The test model was built inside a large garage that sits on eight acres in West Odessa. The plan is to grow a variety of crops on the property, including grapes, okra and corn, and observe how the crops respond to the treated water, Ervin said.

“We need to crawl before we walk,” Ervin said. “We need to prove it can work so that we can start building systems that are 50, 100 times bigger.”