On/off Eyre desalination plant “on again”

Confusion reigns in South Australia about a proposed desalination plant for the Eyre Peninsula west of Adelaide.

Approval for the Adelaide desalter and progress on a desalination plant at Whyalla for the Olympic Dam mine north of the area have created uncertainty in the state government.

The South Australia MP for Flinders, Liz Penfold, reported on 5 May 2009 that Phil Tyler, executive director for small business and regional development for the Department of Trade & Economic Development, had notified the Eyre Regional Development Board that its application for funding for compiling plans for the Western Eyre Peninsula Water Desalination Integrated Plan and a minerals port had been rejected.

Penfold said that knocking back this funding was puzzling because of the dire state of water supplies on Eyre Peninsula, and the need for a dedicated minerals export port on eastern Eyre Peninsula. She pointed out that the new Adelaide plant at Port Stanvac would not be adequate to supply the peninsula and a proposed upgrading of supply from the Murray-Darling would further stress that resource.

However, on 7 May 2009, the chief executive of South Australia Water, Anne Howe, was reported by Adelaide Now as telling an Australia-Israel chamber of commerce lunch that lower than expected groundwater resources had put the Eyre plant back on the agenda.

“We’ve just completed a long-term plan for the Eyre Peninsula, and unfortunately we found there was knowledge missing about the sustainability of groundwater. So over the next six months we’re doing an assessment of a desal plant for the Eyre Peninsula,” said Howe.

A decision in November 2009 has always been on SA Water’s agenda since the Minister for Water Security, Karelene Maywald, officially launched a long-term plan on 4 December 2008. Studies were started on the two options of enhancing the Iron Knob-Kimba pipeline from the Murray to provide an extra 900,000 m³/year or a desalination plant.

Two options are being considered in the planning study. One option is a desalination plant located on the lower west coast; the other focuses on a plant on the north-west coast, possible located at Ceduna or near Penong. Both options will assume RO and marine discharge.