Desalination for urban water: Changing perceptions and future scenarios in Australia

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Chemical Engineering Transactions, 2014, 42 pp. 13 - 18
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Copyright © 2014, AIDIC Servizi S.r.l. In response to prolonged drought, large desalination plants have been built in Australia's major cities over the last decade. This paper identifies those plants and focuses on the context surrounding the decision to build the plant in Sydney. Whilst a portfolio approach allowed lower cost options for secure supply to be identified - including an innovative 'desalination-readiness option' - perceived uncertainty and political decisions led the state government to build the desalination plant before the carefully considered planning triggers dictated and without revisiting the decision when the drought broke. Media analysis is used to construct a timeline of reported headlines relating to the pre- and post-construction periods including events surrounding heavy rain, overflowing dams and dialogue on desalination being unnecessary and expensive. The paper highlights a disconnect between the planning processes, stakeholder and community engagement and political decision-making. Given desalination is now an embedded feature of water supply in most major Australian cities, scenarios are used to assess the potential role of desalination in the future urban water landscape and broader economy.
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