The project's key environmental elements are:
- Innovative design that integrates the plant into the coastal landscape through low-profile buildings, dune creation and coastal habitat restoration;
- Limited carbon footprint by offsetting operational power with renewable energy certificates;
- Protecting the marine, coastal and estuarine environment by tunnelling under the coast and seabed;
- Designing the intake and outlet structure to minimise environmental impact;
- Protecting ecological values near the desalination plant and pipeline and power supply.
The government undertook a thorough Environment Effects Statement (EES) to consider potential impacts as well as measures to minimise the effect of the project on the environment and local community.
Through the EES process, about 220 performance requirements were developed and placed in the contract with AquaSure.
These requirements guided project design during construction and continue to guide environmental management during operation.
The project has met legislative requirements with numerous approvals obtained through state and federal governments.
The Victorian Environment Protection Authority regulates the plant's operation through a discharge licence which requires seawater concentrate to be diffused within a limited mixing zone according to licence conditions.
AquaSure's Environmental Management System and Environmental Management Plan ensure activities are planned and performed so that environmental effects are either avoided or minimised.
The government and AquaSure appointed an Independent Reviewer and Environmental Auditor (IREA) to oversee the design, construction and environmental management of the project, and to monitor the environmental performance of the desalination plant during operation.
These plans and systems enable monitoring, reporting and auditing activities to take place to ensure the environment is protected.
Australia has some of the strictest environmental standards in the world when it comes to the development and operation of desalination plants.
The Victorian Desalination Project complies with a range of Victorian and federal legislation.
The project has achieved the following approvals:
- Victorian Minister for Planning's Assessment under the Environment Effects Act 1978 granted permission to proceed. For details visit DELWP's Planning website;
- EPA Victoria issued a Works Approval for plant construction, finding it met the requirements of the Environment Protection Act 1970. For more details visit the EPA website;
- Federal Minister for Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts approved the project with conditions under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Details: www.environment.gov.au;
- A Cultural Heritage Management Plan under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 (View the Act on the AustLII website);
- Consent under the Coastal Management Act 1995 for use and development of coastal Crown land (View the Act on the AustLII website);
- Permits for taking samples of native flora and fauna for study under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 (View the Act on the AustLII website);
- Permits for waterway crossings under the Water Act 1989 (View the Act on the AustLII website);
- EPA has issued a licence for the operation of the plant following its commissioning under the Environment Protection Act 1970 (View the Act on the AustLII website).
In addition to the government approvals granted, an Independent Reviewer and Environment Auditor (IREA) was appointed by the government and AquaSure.
The IREA reviewed the design, construction and environmental management of the project as construction progressed. Today, the IREA continues to ensure that the project is built to requirements, and will perform quarterly environmental audits until the end of the contract term.