Australia's Victoria Turns to Seawater as Drought Looms

  • Capital city Melbourne faces `critically low' levels of water
  • State government to order 50 gigaliters of desalinated water

Australia’s Victoria state said it plans to order water from a desalination plant as its capital city Melbourne faces drought conditions and “critically low” water levels.

The Labor government of state Premier Daniel Andrews said Sunday that it would order 50 gigaliters (13.2 billion gallons) of desalinated water to be delivered next summer with Melbourne’s water storages falling steadily for the past two years, according to an e-mailed statement. An A$5.7 billion ($4.2 billion) processing plant on Australia’s southeast coast to turn the ocean into a source of drinking water has sat idle since it was built in 2012.

“We’ve always said the desalination plant is our insurance policy to secure our water supply and boost the amount of water available in the water grid -- now it’s in Victoria’s best interests that we call on that insurance,” Andrews said in the statement. “As our population continues to grow and our state faces drought, we need to secure water supplies for Victorian communities -- and adding desalinated water will help us meet these challenges."

Nations from the U.S. to China are grappling with how to respond to water shortages, drought and population growth while the desalination industry, whose major companies include Veolia Environnement SA, General Electric Co. and Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction Co., is positioning itself to be part of the solution.

Victoria’s desalination plant would suck water from the Bass Strait through an underground tunnel into a complex of more than two dozen buildings in a seaside town south of Melbourne. At the heart of the facility is technology that can remove salt and supply as much as 150 billion liters of water a year, or about a third of the city’s consumption.

Dry Conditions

Lisa Neville, Victoria’s minister for environment, climate change and water, said Sunday that the government was responding to the advice of Melbourne’s water corporations, based on an analysis of current water levels, the likelihood of low inflows, dry conditions in the short-term and forecast demand.

The cost of the order will add A$12 ($8.93) a year to the average metropolitan water bill, according to the statement, which also said that the government planned to release a proposal to help deal with issues including shifting rainfall patterns, climate change and population growth.

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