16 February 2022

A historic, state-building project that will boost South Australia’s economy, create jobs and deliver a long-term sustainable water source in the state’s north is one step closer to reality.

The Australian and South Australian governments have committed $15 million for a business case to take the Northern Water Supply project forward and further secure the state’s water future.

Among the options being considered is a desalination plant located in the Upper Spencer Gulf, which would reduce water reliance on the Great Artesian Basin and the River Murray.

A desalination plant would provide a sustainable and sufficient water supply to support many industries, including the burgeoning hydrogen industry, mining, horticulture, pastoral, agriculture sectors and the transition to green steel.

If construction proceeds, the project could support up to 8,000 construction jobs and up to 6,000 ongoing jobs once operating.

Delivering a secure and sustainable water source in the region would drive the growth of regional communities and industries, improve water security, create jobs and help unlock the economic potential of new and expanded opportunities for businesses in the state’s north.

Since 2015, the Australian Government has committed more than $75 million from National Water Grid Fund towards projects in South Australia.

This includes projects supporting premium grape production in McLaren Vale, water security for farmers on the Coolanie Plains, and new water for agribusinesses through the Northern Adelaide Irrigation Scheme.

Mines in northern South Australia rely on these sources for their groundwater, which can be expensive to extract and can be affected by salinity and other water quality issues.

To support the business case, the South Australian Government has entered into a MOU with SA Water, BHP and OZ Minerals to progress the projects and address the regions water needs.

BHP Asset President, Dr Jennifer Purdie, said BHP is pleased to be involved in a project that has the potential to support industry and agriculture in rural and regional South Australia, by improving water stewardship and creating opportunities for future investment and jobs.

“This is a positive step forward in BHP’s commitment to make our Olympic Dam operations more sustainable. We are taking action to reduce water use across our operations, and partnering with others in the communities and regions where we operate to help achieve this.

“South Australia has an important role to play in producing the high-quality copper the world needs to grow and decarbonise, and these types of projects can help us deliver more sustainably now and into the future.”

OZ Minerals’ Chief Executive, Andrew Cole, said the company is keen to play a part in collectively exploring a sustainable way forward that creates value for regional communities and industries.

“Water is an essential consumable for our operations and a critical resource for our stakeholders, particularly for the communities in which we operate, so we recognise the need to responsibly consume this water.”

“Although OZ Minerals does not draw from the Great Artesian Basin, we support this project for reducing consumption of groundwater and securing sustainable water sources for the future.

“Our South Australian Assets, Prominent Hill and Carrapateena, are in arid areas and use saline groundwater to sustain operations. Both Assets use hypersaline water drawn from aquifers that do not compete with demand from natural systems or other land-connected people, and one of our aspirations as a modern mining company, is to strive to minimise water use and add value when we do.”

SA Water Chief Executive David Ryan said the corporation was pleased to support this initiative aimed at securing South Australia’s water future.

“In the face of a changing climate it’s critical we’re thinking ahead to ensure fit for purpose water is secured for the long term,” Mr Ryan said.

“Collaborating with private sector partners in an investigative process like this promotes the diverse thinking that will ensure all sources, delivery and service options are considered.”

Infrastructure Australia has recognised the importance of a new sustainable water source to improve water resilience and increase water supply to the northern parts of South Australia.

More information can be found on the Northern Water Supply project website