Seawater desalination questions

Anyone reading my blog knows I think the Western Australian Government has been very premature in opting for very expensive and high environmental impact seawater desalination to augment Perth water supplies when several other vastly cheaper options are available to harvest free rainwater in both dams and local rivers or local Perth region groundwater.

Just quickly to recap the three main areas where supplies could be augmented much cheaper than seawater desalination.

  • Managing bush in dam catchments as it was done ten years ago could add 100 GL per year on average.
  • Cutting the Gnangara pines forthwith and replacing them with a mix of native vegetation and housing could add a similar amount to annual pumping potential on the Gnangara Mound groundwater.
  • The Avon and Murray rivers could easily supply up to say 75 GL per year of slightly saline water which could augment the Agritech Wellington Dam desalination project to around 100 GL per year.

OK ! Have I made my point that turning to ultra-expensive seawater desalination for Perth was totally unnecessary ? In other words, another HUGE COSTLY GOVT MISTAKE.

Now some questions that puzzle me about the current situation.

  • We have a foreign company (or companies ?) engaged in doing multi-billion dollar business (must total $5 to 10 Billion now) with three or four State Governments and yet how many people knows who this company is ?
  • What appears in the Australian media about the foreign desalination company(ies) ?
  • Do they say anything in public in their own right ?

I have been told by a academic water expert from a prestigious Perth university, the sort of place the media contact for quotes on water stories, that “..the technology for desalination is moving forward at an unbelievable rate..”.

Yet the WA Govt. Water Corporation say water from our first seawater desalination plant at Kwinana costs $1.20 per kilolitre but water from the proposed Binningup plant will cost $2.00 per kilolitre. Both water factories are planned to output 45 GL or potable water per year.

Put another way, the Kwinana plant with cost over-runs has cost nearly $500 Million but the proposed Binningup plant is estimated already to be ~$1Billion, over-runs still to come. Are seawater desalination construction costs sky-rocketing like this around the world ?

I am also interested to learn if the proposed $1 Billion Binningup plant was put out for international tender ?

Another issue puzzles me and that is who has been behind the concept that has been floated often in our media in recent years and was even the subject of a referendum in Toowoomba, SE Queensland. This notion that our water shortage is so acute that in some communities we could be forced to drink treated sewage. I am fascinated to learn who has been driving these media campaigns.

Enough questions for now.

3 comments to Seawater desalination questions

  • SteveSadlov

    Some years ago here in California, there was an “activist” who chained himself to a tree in an area scheduled to be innundated after the completion of a dam on one of the Sierra Nevada rivers. When you worship rocks, sticks, trees and Gaia, it is imperative to prevent things like dams on rivers. (But killing off plankton and disturbing seawater salinity (in the upward direction) via high volume RO …. A-OK! (not!)

  • Philip_B

    We should build the canal down the coast from the Fitzroy. It would solve the entire State’s water problems effectively for ever and open up the state to development to an incredible degree. Similar to the way the Colorado river scheme opened up the US West.

    A hundred years ago we built a water pipeline 600 kms to the Goldfields using hollow trees, and in the 21st century building a canal 3 0r 4 times longer is too hard? Give me a break!

    And as to the expense, how much would 20 million Indian Ocean beachfront lots be worth?

    Sorry for venting, the BS talked about water in this state really annoys me.

  • Water BS Buster

    Philip B, I agree with you that there is an abundance of BS about water being flogged by the media and the Government. However you appear to have been mislead over some of the aspects of the NW canal Option. Unfortunately water does not flow uphill and combined with a marvelous physical phenomena called friction a canal (or pipeline) from the north would require significant amounts of energy (Many times more even than seawater desalination) and any infrastructure for this option would also have a finite capacity. In reality Seawater desalination is more economical than a canal from the north. I am a fan of canals but honestly it cannot be justified in this case. As for Seawater desalination it is a very energy intensive process and should only be used as a last resort when all other more economical options are exhausted. (ie it is fair enough in the middle east where there are no other options). Fortunately WA is blessed with many more innovative options that could be tapped before we need to resort to seawater desalination but these are all being stiffled by our Government which is so drunk with power and obviously has other agenda’s and a media who will not let truth get in the way of a good story. Warwick is spot on with his assesment of loss of catchment efficiency and this and his other ideas are the simplest fastest and most economical to implement. The combined proposals by Agritech (see www.agritech-hydropower.com.au and www.agritechsmartwater.com.au )when added to Warwicks push for catchment thinning, and cutting the gnangarra pines would provide a huge surplus of water for Perth and the SW in a very economical and environmentally friendly and sustainable way. Philip B, I have a piping, pumping, and desalination background so my comments above are backed up with over 25 years of this experience and to try and give them a bit more credibility I have no affiliation with the Water Corporation or the Government.

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