Dry Australian state mulls starting up desalination plant

A A$ 4 billion (US$ 2.93 billion) desalination plant in Australia’s Victoria state could make its debut as parts of the state are suffering their driest period on record.

A draft summary of Victoria’s water outlook leaked by Fairfax Media, revealed that water supplies in some country towns were so low the government was mulling starting up the plant. The government has conformed that it was working on a plan to create a water grid using all options, including using the desalination plant.

“One of the priorities of the water plan is how to optimise the full water grid and get the best outcomes for communities,” said Victoria’ environment minister Lisa Neville. “We will look at all options, including the desalination plant which is Victoria’s insurance against drought,” she added.

Victorian Farmers Federation water council chairman, Richard Anderson, said the desalination plant and other measures may be needed despite the heavy financial cost: “Starting the desalination plant up is not a cheap exercise in its own right and then you’ve got to reverse the North South Pipe to get water out of the Thomson (Dam) into the Goulburn system. But a drought is a drought and just for human needs alone we might have to do this work.”

The leaked outlook report highlighted the Wimmera Mallee region in the west of the state as over the past 14 months having had its lowest rainfall on record. The Wimmera and Glenelg rivers were forecast as likely to stop flowing during the summer.
The report shows storage levels have fallen sharply in the past year. Goulburn-Murray’s Cairn Curran storage has shrunk to 30% from 60% last year. And its Tullaroop storage has dropped to just 34.7% from 57.1% a year ago.

Southern Rural Water’s Werribee Basin storage is down to just 33.8 per cent, from 60.0 per cent a year ago, while its Rosslynne storage is at 39.8 per cent, from 70.6 per cent.
Geelong too is in dry conditions, with storage at Barwon Water at 62.5% from 83.7% a year ago.
The outlook for Melbourne was relatively acceptable – with storage levels down to 74.5% from 80.4% last year.

The plant was commissioned at the height of the last drought. But after it was finished it was placed on standby, with Melbourne’s reservoirs at the time more than 80%.

Deploying the plant would add to customers’ bills. The plant costs about A$ 1.8 million (US$ 1.4 million) a day even without producing water, with the minimum payment over its 27-year contract at A$ 19 billion (US$ 15 million).