Population surge to reinstate mothballed desalination

Population growth in the Gold Coast region of Queensland, Australia, could lead to the reinstatement of a controversial, mothballed seawater desalination plant at Tugun from summer 2020.

South east Queensland water supplier, Seqwater, said its planners had estimated that the 125 Ml/d Tugun plant could be needed back on line continuously during summer months from 2020 to meet growing demand. A population study by consultant KPMG for Gold Coast City Council forecast major population growth for the Gold Coast in the next 20 years.

The controversial A$ 1.2 billion (US$ 840 million) Tugun plant was closed in 2009 and mothballed in 2010 after giving rise to numerous complaints. It has recently provided only 3 Ml/d Southeast Queensland’s water grid costing up to A$ 15 million (US$ 10.5 million) a year to operate.

About 170,000 people in homes in Burleigh, Tallebudgera, Mudgeeraba and Robina are currently temporarily getting drinking water at 44-80 Ml/d from Tugun’s desalination plant while the Gold Coast’s Mudgeeraba’s treatment plant undergoes major repair. Water production costs at Tugun are higher than those of drinking water from the Hinze and Little Nerang dams which is treated at the Mudgeeraba plant.

A Seqwater spokesman said the Tugun plant could be used as a peaking plant meeting the higher demand during the hot months as early as 2020. Bulk water prices to councils are locked in for the next three years, but water bills from 2020 onwards would have to reflect the higher costs of water.

The 2014 Gold Coast population was 546,000 which is projected to reach 798,000 by 2031 according to the KPMG study. The population more than doubled to 538,000 between 1990 and 2013 the study found and could reach 904,000 by 2036.