With each issue, Trib+Water brings you an interview with experts on water-related issues. Here is this week's subject:
Greg Wukasch is the external relations manager for the San Antonio Water System. The system recently opened H2Oaks Center, a water plant that produces three different sources of water and also features an educational facility. You can learn more here.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Trib+Water: What is H2Oaks Center and how will it impact San Antonio's current water system?
Greg Wukasch: The plant is designed to be an aquifer storage and recovery facility. We knew it was going to be the second largest facility of its type in Texas and eventually might become the largest groundwater inland desalination plant in the country. This was the first time in our company’s history where an educational component was going to be built into it from the very beginning.
The facility is an addition to our diverse supply of water. Seventeen years ago, San Antonio was 100 percent dependent on the Edwards Aquifer. As an organization and a city, a decision was made in the '90s that the best thing we could do was diversify our water supply; not just to supplement when we are cut back from the Edwards Aquifer, but also to make long-term, drought-resistant water available to generations as we grow.
Since that time 17 years ago, this facility is now the ninth source of water, and depending on how you look at it, it is either drought-resistant or drought-proof. It is something that can grow as it needs to.
Trib+Water: Can you explain your role at San Antonio Water System as external relations manager?
Wukasch: Part of my responsibility here is to oversee the education department that reaches out to pre-kindergarten to 12th graders in the county to talk about water issues and to teach water issues to students and teachers.
Trib+Water: What motivated the educational component at H2Oaks?
Wukasch: We wanted to make sure the citizens saw and understood how the water story was developed in San Antonio. In the original thinking, we said why don't we build this water story and the educational perspective into the actual plant itself?
There are a lot of directions we could have gone, but the one thing we did was actually use the water cycle, which is very relevant to everybody on the planet but also for every second-grade student in Texas because it's their first introduction to the water cycle. So we used the water cycle as the theme to help tell the water story in San Antonio through the eyes of how the water cycle functions.
Trib+Water: Can you briefly explain the design of the educational part of the facility?
Wukasch: You’ll find different, sort of artistic elements of the water cycle represented throughout the entire facility. For example, we didn’t necessarily want people to go into the room where all the membranes are located because it’s really loud in there.
We wondered if we could have glass walls where people could see the membranes up close while not having to be in the actual room. All of that was taken into consideration, and we do have walls of glass so you can see the membranes. The hallways themselves were built in a way around the plant, and we have guest corridors where people can walk comfortably.
We thought, what would a tour of this plant look like from an educational perspective, and then designed that into the actual construction from the beginning. It may or may not be rare, but for us, we had never before done that for a design in a building.
Trib+Water: How many universities and students do you anticipate coming to see the educational facility?
Wukasch: We don’t know yet because it’s all brand new. We’re doing two tours [this week] with a few high school groups coming through. We know this first year is going to be pretty popular — it’s a new facility and word has gotten out. We don't expect just university, high school and middle school groups, but professional groups as well.
Alamo Community College District already has a partnership with us on developing technicians for the water industry. A lot of our population is involved with teaching. We’re already talking to Texas A&M University-San Antonio, UTSA and other universities in town.