Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Second desal plan a win for the Yarragadee

Tuesday, 16 May 2007 - The West Australian government has ditched controversial plans to pump 45 billion litres of water a year from the southwest Yarragadee aquifer. WA Premier Alan Carpenter announced a second water desalination plant will be built by 2011. Mr Carpenter said the plant will be built near Binningup, between Bunbury and Mandurah, at a cost of $955 million. He said it will provide 45 gigalitres of water a year, with the potential to increase to 100 gigalitres...

The new plant is expected to produce nearly 20 per cent of Perth's water needs. Similar to the Kwinana plant, it will be powered by renewable energy - possibly geothermal energy. The first major sea water desalination plant to be built in the Southern Hemisphere was commissioned at Kwinana earlier this year. The two desalination plants are expected to increase household water prices by $30 a year.

Mr Carpenter said there were too many environmental problems with tapping the Yarragadee and that the success of the wind-powered Kwinana plant, showed a second plant was the best choice. He said the plant would provide water to Perth, the Wheatbelt and the Goldfields.

The contentious plans to tap the Yarragadee, were protested by the state Liberal/National Opposition as well as countless community and environmental groups. Mr Carpenter said the new plant will be powered by renewable energy and established at Binningup, 130km south of Perth. More than 30 per cent of Perth's water will then come from desalination, cutting dependence on dams and the strained Gnangara mound - Perth's major water source.

Opposition Leader Paul Omodei said using water from the Wellington Dam would have been better than another desalination plant. The Opposition also suggested damming the Ord River, in WA's north-west, and piping water down 3000kms to Perth.

The Water Corporation's Jim Gill, who has been pushing the Yarragadee proposal has left the Yarragadee option open. "We're still very confident that for the future of the southwest of WA it's a magnificent water source. It's not something that will not be tapped in the future," he said.

The head of the Water Research Centre at the University of WA, Jorg Imberger, is disappointed the government has put aside the Yarragadee plan. "I just feel sad for this state because they're obviously no longer governing or taking any notice of the public service whatsoever," he said.

Paul Llewellyn, Greens member for the South West, said he was delighted that the government has seen the wisdom. "To secure our future, we must now become very energy and water efficient. This decision will give us just 10 years relief from our rapidly growing water demand before we need to find yet another 45GL," he said. Mr Llewellyn called on the Government to support the Water Conservation Target Bill to implement a water efficiency, conservation and recycling plan, that will reduce demand on the system by at least 45GL per year by 2020.

"Desalination uses an enormous amount of energy. The plant must be powered by new sources of renewable energy that are legally certified. The Government must pass the Greens' Western Australian Renewable Energy Target Bill in order to be guaranteed a clean energy supply for the plant," said Mr Llewellyn.

WA Conservation Council's Chris Tallentire also welcomed the Premier's decision. "That's great news for the farmers, the conservationists, the scientists, the local government people who have all been involved in campaigning to stop the Government taking water from the south west Yarragadee that's so important to south west ecosystems," he said. He said conservationists across the state had worked hard to stop the Yarragadee project which posed very real risks to the environment. Mr Tallentine warned that the desalination plant would be closely scrutinised.

The proposed site for the plant is at a Water Corporation wastewater treatment facility on Taranto Road north of Binningup - adjacent to a disused limestone quarry. It is expected to have minimal environmental and visual impact on the area, but will be subject to the usual approval processes.

The Premier said that while the SW Yarragadee aquifer had effectively received environmental approval, it remained a source that was still reliant on climate and rainfall. "We can no longer rely on traditional, seasonal climate patterns and rainfall," the Premier said. "Seawater desalination is clearly the best long term feasible and practical option for our State, along with more water recycling initiatives.

"When you compare the seawater desalination process to transporting water from the Kimberley, there is no comparison. Put another way, for the cost of building a pipeline from the Kimberley, we could build at least 12 desalination plants and get three times more water at one third of the price per kilolitre."

He said the Government was also researching a major aquifer recharge recycling project north of Perth, which had the potential to yield an extra 25 gigalitres.

Currently WA's water supply includes 13 per cent recycled water and 17 per cent desalinated water. Opposition leader Paul Omodei said more attention must also be paid to recycling and said the Kimberley water pipeline to bring water from the north of the state also remained an option in the longer term.

Mr Omodei said the shelving of the Yarragadee plan had prevented the Carpenter Government from "taking the greatest environmental gamble the State has ever seen." Shadow Environment Minister Steve Thomas said the South West community would be pleased with the Government’s decision, and would closely watch the development of the new desalination plant to ensure environmental concerns were covered.

The estimated cost of building the plant will be $640million, plus an additional $315million to integrate into the water supply system. Western Australia is recognised as the nation’s leader in water resource management. Perth is the only major capital city in Australia where people can use sprinklers through summer – despite our driest year on record last year.

The Australian
Perth Indymedia
The West
Yarragadee Community Action
Paul Llewellyn - Media Release

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