Interior view of filtration membranes mounted on frames of the desalination plant. SUR
Possible summer start for Estepona desalination plants
Drought crisis

Possible summer start for Estepona desalination plants

One desalination unit will be for brackish well water, while two more will treat seawater. The portable plants are being manufactured in the Canary Islands and Almeria

Chus Heredia

Friday, 21 June 2024, 14:24

Opciones para compartir

There are two distinct desalination projects in the pipeline in Estepona. One is to treat seawater (with two intake modules), and the other is to desalinate brackish well water.

The seawater plants will be portable and housed in containers along the coast near the Castor stream. The brackish water desalination plant will be located in a warehouse next to the Padrón river, where work on the land for the pipelines is already under way.

The plants are being manufactured under the supervision of Agbar, Aguas de Barcelona, in workshops in Almeria and the Canary Islands. SUR has obtained photos showing the assembly process. Thus, the desalination project for Estepona is entering its final phase before implementation, pending permits and future expansion.

The Mayor of Estepona, José María García Urbano, announced a few months ago his determination to combat drought using municipal resources. External aid would be welcome, but the resolve was clear. The mayor had a project prepared by Hidralia, the water supply company, to install a portable containerised desalination plant to start treating seawater. Municipal land was identified near the mouth of the Castor river. Funding was allocated from the improvement charge on users' water bills, a concept renewed last December.

During this time, a second desalination project has been added to the agenda in Estepona, involving five boreholes to recover old wells in the Padrón river. They hope to obtain around 2,900 cubic metres per day, totalling over one cubic hectometre per year.

Assembly progressing well

The assembly of the infrastructure is gathering pace, while awaiting the necessary environmental and health permits for the commissioning of the units. The intention is to start operations this summer. That will be easier in the case of the wells than in the case of seawater due to the authorisation requirements.

Work is already under way on the land for the desalination plant, next to the Padrón wells, as can be seen in the photo below. Work on the land for the seawater plant, next to the mouth of the Castor, along the same coastline, has not yet started.

Work on the site for the installation of the desalination plant that will treat the Padrón wells. SUR

2.8 hm3 in the first year

The two seawater plants will be solar powered and will each start with a possible flow of 4,000 cubic metres per day (8,000 cubic metres total). This translates to 1.4 cubic hectometres annually for each plant, amounting to 2.8 cubic hectometres from the Mediterranean Sea to meet Estepona's water needs. The town requires approximately nine hectometres cubed annually, thus these infrastructures provide significant reassurance.

These units, known as 'turnkey' desalination plants, are housed in containers similar to those used in port logistics. This design simplifies civil engineering requirements, reducing it to foundation fixation and connections to the network and other pipelines (for seawater intake, brine disposal, etc.). Civil construction is streamlined and timelines are shortened. Additionally, factory testing can be conducted, and the plants are modular, allowing Estepona to expand with new modules. Future expansions aim for a capacity of 25,000 to 30,000 cubic metres per day, equating to about 9 hectometres cubed annually.

Port containers

Each desalination plant consists of two 40-foot 'High Cube' sea containers, the most common in shipping cargo.

View of the inside of the membranes. SUR

They include a cartridge filtration stage with 8 FRP (fibreglass reinforced polyester) housings for high-flow cartridges, an RO (reverse osmosis) pressure vessel rack with 42 pressure tubes containing 7 membranes each (294 membranes total), and two high-pressure pumps. The plants also feature an energy recovery system and are fully automated for autonomous operation, startup and shutdown management, and real-time data acquisition and monitoring.

Cost of over 4 million euros

The approved budget for constructing these desalination plants, under local improvement charges as of December 18, 2023, amounts to €4,125,056.44 excluding VAT, plus necessary indirect works for their operational readiness this year.

Brackish wells

Regarding brackish wells, activation trials have concluded successfully, with some wells inactive since the 1990s. Research drilling confirmed "excellent results in both quantity and quality" from five wells authorised by the mining authority along the Padrón riverbank. The water is sourced from the alluvial aquifer of the Padrón river, which due to low rainfall tends to become saline, a common occurrence in Mediterranean environments.

The mayor sees 2025 as a key date for the definitive leap forward

"The town council is absolutely sensitive to the drought problem and we have been working on preventive measures to deal with this situation for some time. An example of this was the large water regulating reservoir that was built in the Las Mesas area. From there, guaranteeing the water supply in the municipality is a priority," the mayor of Estepona, José María García Urbano, told this newspaper.

"The objective of all these actions is that in the year 2025 Estepona can be self-sufficient in water without using other sources of supply, with the savings that this would entail in these other resources," he stated while valuing the technical and economic effort of the municipality and Hidralia.

"Our willingness to collaborate with the other administrations is clear, because we understand that the fight against drought requires all of us to work hand in hand," he added.

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