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Desalination has been used for thousands of years. Greek sailors boiled water so that fresh water could evaporate away from the salt. Also, the Romans trapped salt with clay filters.

Distillation and filtration are still key concepts in today's sophisticated methods.

Desalination across the globe

There are about 15,000 desalination plants around the world. The most notable and biggest plants are in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Saudi Arabia has some of the largest desalination facilities in the world.

The Shoaiba and the Al Jubail complexes can each produce over 800 million litres per day. These plants use a variety of desalination technologies.

Israel's Soreq plant is the largest seawater reverse-osmosis membrane plant. This plant can produce 540 million litres per day.

Desalination in Australia

Australian gold miners used wood-fired stills at the Coolgardie goldfields 100 years ago. More complex methods followed with solar ponds at Coober Pedy, while the first plant at Yulara used electrodialysis.

There are about 270 desalination plants in Australia. Most of them are small-scale plants that desalinate seawater or brackish water.

The water is used for:

  • drinking water supplies on islands or remote inland areas
  • industrial processes
  • irrigation of sports grounds
  • agricultural uses.

Australia’s other major desalination plants

Much larger desalination plants have been built in major Australian coastal cities.

  • Perth’s first plant can produce 45 billion litres per year (130 million litres per day). A second plant added a further 100 billion litres per year (274 million litres per day). A third will be constructed soon.
  • Adelaide’s plant can produce 100 billion litres per year.
  • Sydney's plant can produce 91 billion litres per year (250 million litres per day).
  • The Gold Coast’s plant can produce 48 billion litres per year (133 million litres per day).

Desalination in Victoria

Between 1997 and 2009, Victoria experienced unprecedented dry conditions – a period now known as the Millennium Drought. This drought brought severe hardship for everyone and accelerated major policy, planning initiatives and infrastructure upgrades that secured our water supplies. It increased interest in other water supplies, such as desalination.

Victoria’s desalination plant uses reverse osmosis technology and can produce 150 billion litres year (444 million litres per day).

AquaSure has contracted Watersure (a joint venture between Ventia Services and Suez) to manage the Victorian plant since it was built.

The Wonthaggi site was chosen after a feasibility study reduced nine possible sites to four short-listed locations. The Wonthaggi site was selected because it had:

  • Suitable connections to Victoria's water infrastructure.
  • Access to open ocean water for intake of quality source water.
  • Freely circulating ocean water for rapid dispersal of saline concentrate.

Located to the east of Melbourne, the Bass Coast is well positioned to link into Victoria's water grid, which generally moves water from our catchments in the east to cities and towns in the west.

The proposed sites on the Western Port Bay and Port Philip Bay were rejected because of lower source water quality and potential issues with discharge into relatively poor circulating waters.

Seawater desalination feasibility study

Made in Victoria, by many Victorians

The Victorian Desalination Project provided major job opportunities during its construction. It gave a major boost to the Victorian economy and businesses in the local region.

About 10,500 people worked on the project during construction, with the workforce peaking at around 4,500 at one point.

Direct and indirect jobs were created through jobs on site and contracts awarded for products and services.

There are about 50 full-time equivalent jobs involved in operating the plant and more contract positions to support operations, maintenance and servicing.

Jobs and sub-contracts went to local and regional people. Businesses from Wonthaggi, Bendigo, Dandenong, and other regional areas won contracts.

The construction boosted the local economy with demand from a new workforce living and working in the area. In turn, this drove demand for products from local suppliers and new business for retailers, cafes, fuel suppliers, caterers and other service providers.

Page last updated: 08/09/23