Desalination Plants

23 Jul 2008 speecharchive

This speech is in relation to Desalination Plants. The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK states that she believes there is no harm in the ERD Committee taking on these terms of reference, just for reassurance of the community.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (22:55): As I stated in my explanation on 18 June, an article was published entitled 'The footprint of a desalination process on the environment'. I note that I did not state that it was published by a number of Israeli researchers. Members would be aware that Israel has a number of desalination plants, as well as being advanced in this particular technology.

These days it is probably almost a motherhood statement to say that water and environment are the challenge of our generation. When I was at this water trade mission in Israel, along with a range of people, one of the people whom I will not name but who was very deeply involved in a water utility in another Australian state said that they could not understand the attitude of SA Water and that on their regular hook-ups they would continually say that they are praying for rain. We started to enter difficult conditions in terms of water challenges in 2003, and now we are at the point at which all South Australians (front and centre) are concerned about water supply.

I say that because I do not want it to be misconstrued that I am opposed to desalination, but it is new to South Australia and we want to know whether these particular locations will present a problem. There have been mushrooming reports in the press and also at public meetings of some of the potential dangers of some of these particular desalination plants on our gulfs.

The gulfs are unique in that they do not flush water as often as would necessarily enable the fair distribution of the discharge, and that perhaps a place such as Cape Jervis would be a better location for a desalination because of the much faster moving ocean tides, rather than just the local tides. The Hon. Sandra Kanck referred to a meeting of the Nature Conservation Society, at which I believe the Hon. Mark Parnell was present. I, indeed, became aware of it via one of our Legislative Council candidates, Rita Bouris, who is a member of the Friends of Gulf St Vincent, and I attended that meeting at her invitation.

 We heard from the Adelaide desalination project people from SA Water, including their marine scientist. We also heard from a Ph.D. student by the name of Jackie Dupavillon—and the Hon. Sandra Kanck referred to her particular studies of some sea life. We also heard from a scientist by the name of Dr Jochen Kaempf who is from the School of Chemistry, Physics and Earth Sciences at Flinders University. He has been on the public record in relation to these issues, as has Dr Kirsten Benkendorff and Dr Ian Dyson who comes from a different discipline being a sedimentologist. It strikes me that, when you have very well qualified scientists of different disciplines saying, 'Hang on, maybe we need to look at this', then it is a good thing to look at it.

In relation to the EIS, I would be the first to say that this will duplicate the process, but the information that SA Water is collating through various studies will not necessarily be made public. At the meeting on 3 July, the SA Water scientist said that the reports would be made available, but I think that the public needs to have access to all that information through a public process. When I hear comments from the government about minimising impacts on the environment, I think what does that mean? Does that mean that, if we do proceed with this—and the evidence says that further seagrasses might be wiped out or particular species of squid or coastal floor-feeding creatures—that we minimise the impacts because we said, 'Well, at least we took them into consideration?' Does it mean that, if we realise that is the situation and we are advised that entire species may be made extinct, we say, 'Maybe this is not the right location for this plant.' Desalination is part of the solution for our water crisis. We have peaky rain—if I could describe it in those terms.

I understand that most of our rain comes within a narrow range of months, so our rainfall can be fairly unpredictable. We are fortunate that July might have above average rainfall. In the future we all want access to water for critical human needs. I say that because we are not opposed to desalination, but the alarm bells have been rung. The internal process of government is not transparent to the community. Therefore, I believe that there is no harm in the ERD Committee taking on these terms of reference, just for reassurance of our community.

Motion carried.