Southeastern Australia May Turn to the Ocean for Drinking Water

Drinking water is a limited resource, and cities around the world know the importance of being prepared for a water shortage. Australia has had problems supplying enough drinking water for decades, and the country has come up with an interesting solution.

The Drinking Water Supply Problem

When most people think of Australia, they think of dry red earth. And that’s not far from the truth. With the exception of a few areas, most of the country is dry- although it is surrounded by an ocean.

With plenty of land for expansion, a stable economy, and many jobs available, the population of Australia is steadily growing. This has only served to further strain the drinking water problem. The solution? Desalination.

The Drinking Water Supply Solution

Desalination is the process of using reverse osmosis or other commercial filtration methods to filter salt from ocean water, making it drinkable. Desalination plants are facilities that can take a large volume of water from the sea and turn it into drinking water that gets circulated throughout a region. Australia has built several desalination plants, but not all of them are in use.

In 2012, a desalination plant was built on the southeastern Australian coast. It was built in response to something called the Millenium drought (a predicted drought that didn’t happen), but since that time the facility has remained unused. As fate would have it, the nearby city of Melbourne is facing a water storage shortage due to lack of rain. In fact, water storage is the lowest it has been in four years.

If activated, the desalination plant could convert seawater to about 40 billion gallons of drinking water every year, taking care of about 1/3 of the city’s water needs.

So why hasn’t the plant been activated? It’s a simple money issue. It costs $620 million a year for the plant to sit unused and another $27 million when in use. The local government is trying to decide whether or not it’s time to start using the million dollar facility.

Is Desalination A New Technology?

Desalination plants aren’t new. In addition to the plants built throughout Australia, there are more around the world, many of which are used to supply water to people and homes. Perth, for example, uses two desalination plants to get water to residents, and water from the plants accounts for about 40% of the city’s drinking water.
As of June 2015, there were 18,426 desalination plants in the world and over 300 million people rely on water from these plants on a daily basis.

What’s The Downside To Desalination?

The biggest problem with desalination is cost. It costs over a billion dollars to build one plant. Because desalination plants require a great deal of energy, they also cost quite a bit of money to run. With such a high cost, these plants are built and used only when things seem desperate.

The other problem is limited output. Sure, desalination creates drinking water. But, it only creates a small amount of drinking water.

In Southeast Australia, there has yet to be a water usage restriction enforced. If a water restriction isn’t enforced, how can they possible justify the price tag of turning the ocean into a drink? Spokesman Peter Walsh seems to be suggesting a conspiracy. The government spent millions building a facility that hasn’t been used. Now, they want to turn it on when water supplies are not even to a restricted level. He believes that the reason the government wants to use the desalination plant is to justify building it.

Will Desalination Solve Melbourne’s Drinking Water Problem?

Turning on the desalination plant will get enough water to the people of Melbourne. However, it only supplies so much water. If rainfall continues to decrease, desalination may not be the end-all solution.

Melissa Thompson
Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn't know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.