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South Australia a step closer to multi-billion dollar desal water for mining

A potentially transformative investment in regional South Australia looms with an expensive infrastructure upgrade a step closer largely to assist South Australia’s mining industry.

Speaking on Flow on Wednesday, the CEO of the South Australian Chamber of Mines & Energy (SACOME), Rebecca Knol, was jubilant that within days of seeking an election commitment in the March 19 state poll, the state and federal governments backed the next phase of securing water for outback SA:

“It is a very large cost, there’s a lot of work that needs to happen before then, obviously the business case is the first hurdle and then there will be a gated process to go through there.”
“From our perspective, this is very much a multigenerational project – it will cut across successive governments before it’s fully up and running, it’s a large desalination plant that’s in Port Bonython up in Spencer Gulf region and a 400km pipeline into the state’s north.”
“It’s a massive infrastructure project, it is being stewarded by Infrastructure South Australia and they’ve done a fantastic job so far and they will be the ones ultimately responsible for its delivery alongside the Department for Infrastructure and Transport.”

On the topic of possible engineering solutions which could resolve concerns about saline discharge streaming into the Upper Spencer Gulf, member for Grey Rowan Ramsey told Flow one scenario could see some saline water released into existing salt lakes in the region.

Hear the full interview with Liberal member for Grey Rowan Ramsey on the FlowNews24 podcast:

Ms Knol said reducing reliance on the Great Artisan Basin was a critical environmental tick for the project:

“The fact that we may be able to reduce our reliance on the Great Artisan Basin and also on the Murray River are not insubstantial, these are finite resources ultimately and we need to look at sustainable water supply.”
“In terms of desalination , that is all part of the business case as well – working out what needs to be done to ensure that the outpour from the desalination is moved sufficiently offshore, so into a part of the gulf where there is mixing, it’s certainly not something that can be deposited close into to the shoreline.”

Ramsey also expressed concern about the long-term impacts expanded mining would have on the Great Artesian Basin, hence the need for alternate water sources:

"A proposal backed by BHP and OzMinerals to provide water in the north to develop our resources sector is where we have only scratched the surface of the Gawler Craton.
"We can't keep extracting water out of the Great Artesian Basin, its a very delicate system that's already delivered a lot of water across the outback - it takes thousands of years for that water to percolate down from Queensland and New Guinea."

Knol went on to outline what the timeline looks like between now and when first soil is turned on the proposed desalination plant.

“So all of those environmental and community considerations will be the next stage of the project, there’s obviously got to be a community consultation along a 400km pipeline length and there needs to be a lot of environmental studies done as well.”
“There’s a lot of work that needs to happen before a project of this magnitude actually starts being built on the ground...mining projects can take somewhere between seven and 15 years to get off the ground.”

Suzanne Waters the United Australia Party candidate for the seat of Grey expressed reservations that the South Australian government would be able to deliver the project:

"The trouble with the state government is there has always been a lot of talk and no action, they've been talking about doing things like this for years but haven't seen any results anywhere."


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