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Municipal Desalination Plant of the Year: Shortlist

For the municipal desalination plant, commissioned during 2017, that represents the most impressive technical or ecologically sustainable achievement in the industry.

Shortlisted Nominees


H2Oaks Center BWRO plant, Texas

What is it?

A new 12MGD (45,420m3/d) brackish water reverse osmosis plant co-located with existing groundwater wells and an aquifer storage and recovery system at the H2Oaks Center in San Antonio, Texas.

Who is involved?

A joint venture of Zachry and Parsons acted as construction manager at risk. Black and Veatch was the programme manager for the project, and led a team of five design engineers, of which Tetra Tech served as the design engineer for all the facilities inside the fence at the BWRO treatment plant.

What makes it special?

Delivered under a construction manager at risk contract, the $192 million H2Oaks desalination plant – which doubles up as an education centre and research facility – is one of the first major municipal water projects in Texas to utilise state legislation authorising alternative delivery methods.

The facility is fully automated with supervisory controls and data acquisition systems, and the entire process – from wellfield through to concentrate disposal wells – runs without a single break tank. A three-stage reverse osmosis system recovers 90% of the plant’s feedwater, after which brine is disposed of in two mile-deep injection wells that required advanced drilling techniques typically employed in the oil and gas industry.


Designed with the potential to be expanded to 30MGD (113,550m3/d), the plant is the latest milestone in the diversification of San Antonio’s water supply portfolio, as the city reduces its reliance on groundwater from the drought-afflicted Edwards Aquifer. The H2Oaks Center is the only facility in the US that produces potable water from three different feedwater sources.


Mirfa IWPP, Abu Dhabi

What is it?

A $1.5 billion independent power and water project supplying 1,600MW of power and 238,665m3/d of water through a combination of MSF and SWRO technology. 136,380m3/d of the water capacity is accounted for by new SWRO units, while the project folded in three 34,095m3/d MSF units installed by Fisia in 2002.

Who is involved?

The plant is owned by a consortium of Engie (20%) and the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (80%). Design of the water plant was led by Suez, which will also operate the membrane facilities for seven years following commissioning. The lead EPC contractor for the project as a whole was Hyundai E&C.

What makes it special?

The project was the first in the UAE to deploy reverse osmosis on the warm, turbid and algae-rich waters of the Gulf, and the first to feature no new thermal desalination capacity. With a single plant, this project has more than justified Abu Dhabi’s foresight in pursuing new technological solutions for its water needs.

The unique design of the plant allows it to optimise energy usage, while reaching the highest performance standards even in the most challenging of desalting conditions. While DAF pre-treatment insures against the possibility of red tide intrusion, the two-pass hybrid membrane design allows for the live optimisation of permeate flows, delivering tailored water from high-TDS feed sources.


By cleverly incorporating existing assets into the design of the new plant, the project retained the synergies of the thermal power/desalination nexus, while pushing the boundaries of modern technology in one groundbreaking package. It is the benchmark by which all future RO plants in the Gulf will be judged.


Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant, California

What is it?

The rehabilitation of an existing SWRO plant serving the City of Santa Barbara which was mothballed in 1992. The initial phase saw the plant refurbished in order to produce 3,125 acre-feet per year (10,475m3/d) of water.

Who is involved?

A consortium of IDE Technologies and Kiewit reconstructed the plant on behalf of the City of Santa Barbara, and IDE will operate the facility going forward. Energy Recovery Inc. supplied its PX-Q300 pressure exchanger devices and AquaBold high-pressure pumps, while Dow supplied its Filmtec RO membranes. Carollo Engineers provided support services.

What makes it special?

Santa Barbara installed a seawater desalination plant in 1991 in response to drought, but dismantled it months later after it rained. With drought raging again in the state, the city opted to diversify its sources of supply by sprucing up the old facility with cutting-edge technology, to a design furnished by one of the leading experts in the business.

Getting any seawater desalination plant in California up and running is a challenge. Refurbishing one which had been dismantled 25 years earlier came with the added burden of remediating the soil at the site, whilst offering the chance to improve energy consumption by 40%. It also shows admirable respect for the marine environment, employing 1mm wedge wire screens in the open ocean intake to minimise impingement and entrainment.


The long-term insurance policy against drought that the revitalised plant affords is evidence of the foresight of the City of Santa Barbara in securing long-term water supplies for its citizens. With groundwater basins in many areas perilously overdrawn, the temporary breaking of the California drought in winter 2016/17 has not reduced the need for alternative sustainable water supplies.


Umm Al Houl IWPP, Qatar

What is it?

An independent water and power project at the Qatar Economic Zone 3 south of Doha, generating 545,520m3/d of desalinated water through a combination of MSF and SWRO technology.

Who is involved?

The facility is owned by Umm Al Houl Power, a consortium comprising Qatar Electricity and Water Company, Mitsubishi Corporation, TEPCO, Qatar Petroleum, and Qatar Foundation. The desalination plant was delivered by lead EPC contractor Hitachi Zosen, with Acciona Agua as the main subcontractor for the membrane desalination portion. UF and RO membranes were supplied by Pentair and Toray, respectively, with Fluytec cartridge filters and energy recovery devices from ERI.

What makes it special?

The SWRO portion of the plant alone makes Umm Al Houl the largest membrane desalination facility in Qatar. Despite the dual challenges of variable feedwater quality and subsidised thermal power, the commissioning of the plant in 2017 proves beyond all doubt that reverse osmosis is the technology of choice for forward-thinking desalination clients in the Gulf.

With extremely tight delivery deadlines and a scale and complexity that demanded multiple parallel construction schemes and an army of 16,000 workers on the ground, the commissioning of the plant less than two years after breaking ground is a truly impressive achievement, particularly in the light of the economic blockade imposed on Qatar in the later stages of construction.


A last-minute alteration to the project saw a doubling of the number of water storage tanks, resulting in a greatly enhanced supply buffer at a time when water security has become a crucial hot button issue for Qatar in the face of the political standoff with its neighbours.


The Global Water Awards 2018 is proudly sponsored by:

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