Kurnell Desalination Plant

The Sydney Desalination Plant is a drinking water supply project being undertaken by Sydney Water, Sydney's State-owned water supply corporation. It is currently being built in the Kurnell industrial estate area, in Sydney's southern suburbs. The desalination plant itself is being built by the Blue Water Joint Venture, under contract to Sydney Water. The Blue Water Joint Venture comprises the plant constructor, John Holland Pty Ltd, and the operator, Veolia Water Australia.

The plant will use reverse osmosis filtration membranes to remove salt from seawater and will be powered using 100 percent renewable energy. The renewable energy will be supplied to the national power grid from the Capitol Wind Farm at Bungendore, NSW. The Sydney desalination plant is the second being built in Australia, after the Kwinana desalination plant, in Perth, Western Australia. Perth is now building a second plant. Other plants are being built or are out to tender, to supply water to the Gold Coast in Queensland, Melbourne in Victoria, and Adelaide in South Australia, as well as a second desalination plant for Perth.

There has been significant media coverage in 2008 relating to purported 'controversy' regarding impacts of construction of the plant. The desalination plant in Kurnell is in fact being built in an industrial area, zoned industrial by the Sutherland Shire Council well before the plant was on the agenda, and almost 1 kilometre from residential areas. The pipeline from the Kurnell plant to the city's main water supply, although 19 kilometres long, travels substantively along the alignment of only three residential streets throughout all of Sydney.

Decision to build

The Sydney desalination plant will supply up to 15% of the drinking water supply to Sydney, the Illawarra and the Blue Mountains. It is the largest water supply project for Sydney, Australia's biggest city, since Warragamba Dam was opened in 1960 by the Sydney Metropolitan Water Sewerage and Drainage Board. The desalination project was announced in February 2007, when Sydney dam levels dropped to 34% of total storage, the lowest level reached since the drought that preceded the opening of Warragamba, in the 1940s and 1950s.

Other options to supplement Sydney's water supply were ruled out - a new dam was ruled out due to land availability and environmental reasons, drinking recycled waste water and stormwater was ruled out due to perceived lack of community acceptance in Sydney, and rainwater tanks, although encouraged, would not supply enough reliable, potable water, to secure the water supply in times of drought and climate change.

Infrastructure and capacity

It is expected that the plant will be able to generate 250 million litres of water every day, with the possibility of scaling up to 500 million litres in the future if needed. [http://www.sydneywater.com.au/Publications/_download.cfm?DownloadFile=../EnsuringTheFuture/Desalination/pdf/B9-SecuringSydneyWaterSupply.pdf] The desalination plant will be connected to the Tasman Sea via intake and outlet tunnels. The plant will be connected to the water supply by the 19-kilometre desal pipeline from Kurnell to Erskineville, in inner-city Sydney. At Erskineville, the drinking water delivered via the pipeline from Kurnell will be delivered into the large City Water Tunnel connecting Potts Hill Reservoir, in western Sydney, to the Waterloo Pumping Station, in eastern Sydney. Off-take pipes along the length of the City Water Tunnel mean that, depending on demand, desalinated water will be fed into the drinking water supply throughout much of metropolitan Sydney. In the process, the desalination plant-supplied water will ease the drawdown on water from the city's surface storages including Warragamba Dam.

Both the tunnels to the sea and the pipeline to the water supply will be built to the ultimate capacity of 500 million litres per day, so if the plant is ever expanded, the supporting infrastructure is already in place.

Along with the desalination plant, Sydney Water is also building large new recycling plants, that will also be able to recycle up to 70 billion litres of waste water per year by the year 2015, for non-drinking purposes. These include the Western Sydney Replacement Flows plant being built at St Marys in Sydney's outer west, the Camellia Recycled Water plant in the city's western suburbs, and the large industrial recycling plant at Port Kembla, in Wollongong, NSW.


The contracts for constructing the desalination plant and pipeline, in total, are worth around $1.7 billion. The total project will, including management expenditure, will cost around $1.9 billion. The plant will start operating, according to Sydney Water, in the summer of 2009-10. The then Minister for Water, Mr Nathan Rees, announced in July 2008 that the plant was 30% complete, and was running on time and within budget. Sydney summers have in recent years seen significant declines of dam storage levels, up to 10% storage loss has occurred in some summers since 2002, according to the Sydney Catchment Authority. There is a potential that when the desalination plant starts running, dam levels will have returned to those seen during the recent drought in eastern Australia, the worst drought on record.

Pipeline to City Water Tunnel

The desalination plant project is, contractually, effectively split into two - the actual plant, being built as is normal by a private consortia with an operations and maintenance component, but with the plant assets always remaining in public ownership. The 19 kilometre pipeline from the desalination plant site at Kurnell, to Sydney's main City Water Tunnel (built in the 1950s) is being constructed under an "Alliance" contract which includes some well known companies with capability of pipeline construction, as well as Sydney Water. Most of the pipeline travels through industrial areas such as the reserved "F6 Freeway" corridor through Arncliffe, Tempe, St Peters and Alexandria, currently exclusively industrial areas or parks.

There has been significant conjecture about the pipeline works, in the media in Sydney, notably in tabloid newspapers or on talkback radio (for example, the 2GB breakfast show hosted by Alan Jones, and the News Limited-owned Daily Telegraph newspaper) throughout 2008. The conjecture has been about the pipeline construction work "wrecking homes", "tearing up suburbs" or causing purported "damage" to homes.

The desalination water pipeline only travels substantively along the alignment of three residential streets throughout all of Sydney, plus one residential back laneway, and all works are scheduled to be completed in the three residential streets in less than one year. In a city of four million residents and with 1.6 million properties connected as customers of the Sydney Water system, only a few dozen residential properties are directly adjacent to the new water pipeline.

External links

* [http://www.sydneywater.com.au/ensuringthefuture/desalination/ Sydney Water Desalination Page]
* [http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/07/18/2307260.htm Water plant 'a billion-dollar bungle']
* [http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/04/24/2226646.htm Homes damaged by desal drilling will be fixed]

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