Topics > River Murray > Drought and dry conditions

Adelaide Desalination Plant

Why was the Adelaide Desalination Plant built?

The Adelaide Desalination Plant was constructed to safeguard urban water supplies and ensure that sufficient water is available to meet Adelaide’s needs in extremely dry years.

The plant was built following the Millennium Drought to provide a source of water which is not dependent on the climate, in addition to the state’s reservoirs, stormwater, wastewater and the River Murray.

The combination of these sources of water provides the necessary water security to underpin South Australia’s economic and population growth to 2050.

For more information on how the plant works, visit SA Water.

How is the plant factored into water allocation decisions?

The plant makes a major difference to how water is shared between all South Australian water entitlement holders of the River Murray in dry years.

By reducing Adelaide’s reliance on the River Murray in dry years, up to an additional 50 GL of available River Murray water is then able to be released to holders of irrigation licenses, which would not be possible without the insurance provided by the plant.

This boosts irrigation allocations by up to 8 per cent and applies when irrigators are on less than 100 per cent and critical human water needs have been secured.

How is the plant being used to help with the impacts of drought?

When South Australian irrigators are on allocations of less than 100 per cent, the insurance provided by the Adelaide Desalination Plant enables these allocations to be increased by up to eight percentage points.

The plant is now also able to provide a benefit to severely drought affected farmers in this time of national need.

In a historic agreement between the South Australian and Australian Governments, Adelaide’s Desalination Plant increased production and provided 40 GL of water in 2019-20. Subject to a review of this 40 GL, production may also be increased in 2020-21 to provide a further 60 GL. This will enable the Commonwealth Government to release the equivalent volume to help drought-affected farmers through its Water for Fodder program.

The Australian Government will meet all costs associated with increased use of the desalination plant and provide the extra water to farmers at less than market rates. Details on how this water will be made available to drought affected farmers is available from the Commonwealth Government.

As part of this deal, there will also be a $10 million South Australian Drought Resilience Fund established.

Key components of the Agreement are:

  • No adverse impact on Adelaide’s water security
  • No adverse impact on Adelaide’s water prices
  • No adverse impacts on flows to South Australia
  • Up to 40 GL of water to be provided this financial year, with up to an extra 60 GL to be provided in 2020-21 dependent on a review.
  • The review will commence prior to 2020-21 and assess the effectiveness of the 40 GL, water availability in the Basin, South Australia’s water security and costs
  • The arrangement is a one-off, recognising the severe impact of current drought conditions.

You can also read the story on our news page here.

Letter from the Prime Minister and copy of the arrangements for the provision of water to the Commonwealth through increasing production from Adelaide’s Desalination Plant.

Has the review of the 40 GL been completed?

The South Australian and Commonwealth governments have completed the review of the 40 GL produced in 2019-20. Two reports were prepared as part of the review:

A decision whether to proceed with producing a further 60 GL in 2020-21 is expected in the coming months.

What are the environmental impacts of the plant?

The Adelaide Desalination Plant has one of the smallest carbon footprints of any desalination plant in the world.

Independent reviews of the plant's environmental impact has shown that it has caused no harm to the environment.

This has been achieved by:

  • using energy from renewable sources
  • harvesting rainwater on-site for use within the plant
  • capturing stormwater and surface water run-off in local wetlands as this process naturally cleans the water before it goes out to sea
  • growing Indigenous plant species and encouraging animals to return to the site
  • continually monitoring the environmental health of Gulf St Vincent.

What role does the Plant have in contributing to Basin Plan outcomes?

At the December 2018 Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council, the Minister for Environment and Water agreed to investigate whether the Adelaide Desalination Plant could make a contribution to the recovery of the final 450 gigalitres through efficiency measures under the Basin Plan. This investigation built on the report provided by EY to the Ministerial Council in January 2018.

SA Water and the Department for Environment and Water contracted Aurecon Australasia Pty Ltd to undertake the feasibility study.

The feasibility study concluded that through the operation of the Adelaide Desalination Plant it is technically feasible to maintain Adelaide’s water security while reducing the volume of water taken from the River Murray by up to 30 gigalitres on average per year in perpetuity. The cost of achieving this however, significantly exceeds the Commonwealth government’s current funding multiplier of 1.75 times the market value of water rights. Proceeding with this measure would also reduce the capacity for the desalination plant to be used to further support regional communities in times of extreme drought.

View the River Murray Efficiency Measures Adelaide Desalination Plant Feasibility Study report.