Coast desalination plant floated to ease water worries
WATER chiefs will look at building a desalination plant on the Sunshine Coast as a booming population and changing weather patterns put pressure on future drinking supplies.
The controversial idea, which will agitate environmental and tourism groups, is one of several options to be investigated by Seqwater as it shapes its long-term plan to ensure future supply.
The fast-growing Sunshine Coast - where the population is projected to soar by more than 60 per cent to 500,000 by 2041 - has been identified by modelling as the priority need for a new bulk water source over the next two decades.
The best wet season for three years has lifted the southeast's combined dams' capacity to 84 per cent, the highest level since July 2016.
But Seqwater acting chief Dan Spiller said: "While Sunshine Coast dams are now full, they are relatively small and can be drawn down quickly.
"What is becoming clearer is that in the long run, we are not going to be able to rely on rainfall alone. We will need more climate-resistant water sources to supplement our traditional dam water storages."
The possibilities considered will include a major water recycling plant or desalination facility to turn seawater into drinkable water.
Other options include increasing the capacity of exiting water treatment plants, raising the level of Borumba Dam near Gympie or a weir on the Mary River as well as large-scale stormwater harvesting at residential and industrial developments for nondrinking use.
But the idea of building a plant close to the coastline and world-class beaches will infuriate environmental groups and worry tourism organisations.
And the construction of more expensive infrastructure is set to put more upward pressure on rising water bills.
Seqwater is struggling to pay off the debt from the $7 billion water grid completed in 2008 to address the "Millennium Drought"
That infrastructure included the $1.2 billion Tugun desalination plant on the Gold Coast, which has often been branded a white elephant. It's been used only temporarily since 2010 but it may be brought back permanently from 2020.
Community consultations will begin this year as the Seqwater prepares the next version of its future water plan, due by 2022.
BIG WET BOOSTS DAMS
SUMMER deluges have added nearly six months' of water to southeast Queensland's dams.
The best wet season in three years has boosted the combined capacity of the region's 12 major dams to 84 per cent, the highest level since July 2016.
Five of them are spilling, including the Sunshine Coast's main water source, Baroon Pocket, which fell to an lowest of 45 per cent during the dry 2017.
Seqwater acting chief executive Dan Spiller said while the increase in supply was welcome, variable weather patterns in recent years had demonstrated that conditions and dam, levels could change quickly.
A reduction in consumption over the summer had also helped boost the region's water security.
"Due to the reasonably wet summer we have seen water use drop by 10 litres per person per day to an average 177 litres, compared to the spike in consumption we saw over the previous summer that was hot and dry," Mr Spiller said.
Water use was now back to similar levels seen since southeast Queenslanders changed their habits during the Millennial Drought which broke in 2008.
Maintaining lower consumption would help delay the need for expensive investment in more bulk water sources, he said.