Plan to revive Adelaide’s desalination plant to help Murray River
Adelaide’s largely under-utilised water desalination plant could begin operating next year, in a bid to help the Murray River.
- A study will be done into increasing Adelaide’s desalination plant’s production
- The State Government wants Federal Government funding if it happens
- Both Labor and Liberals agree the plant must remain a ‘drought security measure’
In a deal struck between the State Government and the Federal Government, South Australia will undertake a $2 million study to determine how the plant could be used to reduce Adelaide’s reliance on river water.
“In reality, Adelaide’s desalination plant is ready to go,” SA Water Minister David Speirs said.
“This plan could be in place sometime in 2019.
“It is our view that the plant has the capacity to offset River Murray take and, as such, we need to thoroughly study this.”
The Federal Government has been keen to get South Australia’s support for new measures to ensure the controversial Murray-Darling Basin Plan can be delivered in full.
Federal and state water ministers met in Melbourne today.
The desalination plant, which cost $1.8 billion, was built during the drought of 2001 to 2009.
It is expensive to run.
Its electricity bill was $13.5 million for the 2016-17 financial year, despite it producing only 2 per cent of the state’s water supply, according to an auditor-general’s report.
That same report also noted that the plant’s total operational costs had decreased annually since the 2013-14 financial year, when its operational expenditure was $42 million.
Water ministers have been discussing the future of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. (ABC Rural: Brett Worthington)
Last November, while in opposition, Mr Speirs described the plant as a huge financial burden — and too big.
Now in State Government, he has made it clear that he expected the Federal Government to help cover the operating costs if production was to increase.
“SA will not agree to the desalination plant being used if it leads to higher water bills,” Mr Speirs said.
“Any additional water produced will have to be supported by Commonwealth funding.
“[After the study] we will negotiate a funding package from the Commonwealth to support any additional water produced by the plant.”
Plant must remain a ‘drought security measure’
Adelaide currently gets most of its 90 gigalitres of water a year from the Murray River.
The desalination plant converts saltwater to freshwater at a production cost of five times more than Murray River water.
It currently only produces about 8 gigalitres a year — although it has the capacity to deliver 100.
While the plant has the ability to supply all of Adelaide’s drinking water, Mr Speirs said there needed to be a balance.
“At the end of the day, the desalination plant is a drought security asset for South Australia and it must always be able to fulfil that role,” he said.
“Putting a figure on the quantum of this water would be difficult at this stage, but our study will provide more clarity.”
SA Deputy Opposition Leader Susan Close urged caution and said any new agreement must not impact critical environmental flows or water customers in SA.
“Why should South Australians pay for the mismanagement of the basin by upstream states?” she said.
“The desalination plant was built to protect our critical water supply in periods of drought, not to give upstream states another way to avoid their obligations to the Murray Darling system.”