Out of 2007 – Seawater desalination seriously examined by Canberra Govt water utility ACTEW

I wonder how much money was wasted on the study – driven no doubt by Chief Minister Stanhope who was itching to play in the “big boys desalination sand pit.” They actually looked at costs involved in desalinating seawater at the coast – then pumping it ~150kms plus vertically 750m. Any half competent engineer could do a back of an envelope calculation in ten minutes and tell his superiors – “…you have to be dreaming.” On a related subject – how close did Canberra come to getting a sewage to drinking water factory – how many millions were wasted chasing that darling Greenleft rabbit down its burrow. And of course at this point in 2007 at least 5 years had been wasted in delays to getting on with the no-brainer option to enlarge the 100 year old Cotter Dam.

5 thoughts on “Out of 2007 – Seawater desalination seriously examined by Canberra Govt water utility ACTEW”

  1. Warrick,

    The Australian Capital Territory water Authority, ACTEW’s annual report for 2009-10 stated that it had written off 18 million dollars for its demonstration sewerage reclamation plant, euphemistically called a demonstration water purification plant. It was supposed to produce 3GL of water, cost 100 million dollars and to have shown the ACT population that it was possible to produce potable water. We were not supposed to drink it.
    I can only hope that this figure included all of ACTEW’s costs that arose from Chief Minister Stanhope’s announcement that the ACT would have the water2WATER project. What a catchy new age title. The 9GL of water annually was to be produced by reverse osmosis, purified using ultraviolet light and ozone and pumped to wetlands built above the 4GL Cotter dam, a dam that spends the greater part of its life full and overflowing.
    Those not resident in Canberra are probably not aware of the magnitude of the effort made by the ACT Government to get its scheme up and running. There were public consultations and numerous double page newspaper advertisements and lots of external consultants. There was an expert panel to investigate the health implications. When its report was not favourable the demonstration plant became the option. The most over the top use of public funds was a media consultancy analysis to determine how effective the processes undertaken to sway the public had been.
    I believe that the entire scheme was initiated by Stanhope, who, badly spooked by falling water levels and predictions made about inflows by the Bureau of Meteorology was emboldened by the unilateral announcement by Queensland Premier Beatty to go down the sewerage2WATER route.
    At the time ACTEW had nobody on its management board with a science or technical background. It was made up of former public service bureaucrats, football club bosses and ex union officials. There had been little evidence that it was prepared to do anything but toe the government’s line.
    What I find most disappointing about the whole process was that Canberra is a clever community with higher than average levels of education and a number of government bodies with interest in water such as the National Water Commission, the Murray-Darling Basin Commission and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and several Universities with academics who had some interest in urban water supply.
    It is indicative of just how powerful a mind set, in this case anti-damism, can be in influencing intelligent people whose effectiveness is supposed to depend on their objectivity.

  2. Many thanks for taking your time to write such a useful contribution to the thread.
    There has to be a book in the shortcomings of ACTEW.
    Along lines – How not to run a water utility.
    ACTEW is taking us all to a strange place – the enlarged Cotter – plus the Angle Crossing to Googong pipeline will give us a “Roll Royce” water system capable of supplying far more than we currently use and far more even allowing for usage to go back near 60GL PA from the current ~45.
    Yet ACTEW / Govt seem incapable of fully relaxing restrictions – so it will be fascinating to see how it all pans out. I predict a huge increase in env flows to get rid of the water – already happening now.
    I predict the AC to G pipeline will be a white elephant. The Cotter to Googong transfer should be exploited to the max. From what I can gather its capacity is only circa 1GL per month – do not know what it would cost to improve.
    A sensible ACTEW/GOVT would have by now relaxed restrictions to nudge consumption up near the 60GL PA level, would rake in some more money (and they have been crying poor). Green/Labor would hate to send the message that – hey – water is not always “precious” and is a renewable resource that can be used.

  3. “Any half competent engineer could do a back of an envelope calculation in ten minutes and tell his superiors – “…you have to be dreaming.””

    BHPB does desal at Puerto Coloso then pumps inland to Escondida mine: 180 km and 3100 m up the Andes. Done in 3 stages with big hairy pumps for each stage. So it can be done. On the other hand the Atacama desert is said to be just slightly drier than Canberra…so for Mr Stanhope I agree with ‘you have to be dreaming’.

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