Friday, January 21, 2011

Will desal be worth its salt?

Penelope Debelle has a long, interesting article in the Adelaide Advertiser (Australia). A few snips: …As rainfall goes, 2010 was a bumper year. In early December, 7.2GL poured into the Hills catchment and we now have enough water for almost a year. But good seasons depart as quickly as they come. The unresolved spectre of permanent climate change still clouds the future and the weather is violently unpredictable.

So why - courtesy of an announcement from Premier Mike Rann in August delivered as a throwaway line in a press conference about something else - are we being encouraged to undo good habits instilled over many dry years after a single season of plenty?

The answer lies 25km south of Adelaide at Lonsdale where the slumbering desalination beast is coming to life. Like a modern-day alchemist, the plant will turn salt water into fresh. Life will change forever as we look to technology instead of nature. In the next two years we will have 40 per cent more water - even if it rains less. The sprinkler-happy new rules suddenly make sense. There will be water, but we will pay dearly for it. In three years, the price will be 70 per cent higher.

On the state's biggest worksite just north of the Port Stanvac jetty, up to 1400 people a day are completing a massive engineering feat. The plant's complexity is in its size and the way it pumps water from 1.5km out in the Gulf through pipes 25m under the seabed to an underground chamber onshore where the water moves through a series of treatment cycles inside the plant.

… "The desalination plant has always been our insurance policy to protect Adelaide's water security against dry years such as 2006-2007," Paul Caica says.

'The whole idea of the desalination plant is that it's a contingency, it's an insurance policy. As night follows day, we are the country of droughts and flooding rains. While things are looking good at the moment, we know that in 10 or 15 years, those climatic dependent water supplies will again fail."...

The Port Stanvac desal plant while it was under construction, shot by Vmenkov, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

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