The Greens campaign....

South Australia is facing an immense water security challenge.

We need a water revolution in Adelaide.  Instead of grabbing water from elsewhere, or using crazy amounts of electricity artificially manufacturing it through desalination, we should be doing much, much better with the clean water that falls onto the Adelaide plains from the sky.

The good news is that there is more than enough water for our needs, as long as we invest wisely and plan carefully.  Even better news is that by capturing water and storing it underground until we need it, we can help avert major flooding and stop damaging the precious sea grasses that hold our beaches firm.  We can turn our problems into solutions.

The Greens believe that Adelaide can no longer rely on the River Murray for its major source of water, and must develop a plan to wean itself off the Murray within 10 years.

 Greens Urban Water Action Plan 

Adelaide's unique solution

We don't have a water supply problem; we have a water storage problem.  But unlike other capital cities, Adelaide is blessed with an extensive network of underground aquifers that store up to 100 times our current capacity.  The solution for our current water crisis is literally under our feet. 

Doing nothing is not an option

The River Murray, which has supplied more than 90% of our water in very dry years, continues to struggle against massive over-allocation.  Our reserves are not adequate to sustain another dry period, and our consumption continues to grow.  Without sustained above average rains over a number of years, we face a water crisis. 

Is desalination the answer?

Desalination is a very expensive, energy hungry and, depending on the location, environmentally damaging process to generate a water supply. For these reasons the Greens believe that before we expend vast amounts of money and energy artificially manufacturing new water, we should be doing much much more with the water we have now.

Sustainable Water Report

Environmental consultants Jake Bugden from Sustainable Focus and Richard Clark have prepared a Report for the Greens that shows that Adelaide can be fully water secure into the future (even allowing for population growth and modest climate change) without relying on the River Murray or sea water desalination.

You can download their Report here.

For a copy of Mark's press release launching the Sustainable Water Report click here.

To read Mark's interview on 891 ABC on the issue click here.

Based on the Sustainable Water Report, the Greens believe these are the water options for Adelaide we should be embracing first:



Gigalitres (GL)

Demand management

Highly cost effective with excellent environmental benefits.



Offers a cost-effective water supply option and provides very significant downstream environmental benefits.


Existing catchments

Existing catchments are a proven and reliable option.


Wastewater reuse

Offers a cost-effective water supply option and provides very significant downstream environmental benefits.


Rainwater tanks

Relatively expensive, but provides multiple benefits .




Current water use (2009)




216 Gl

Options of last resort:


Groundwater use without recharge is inherently unsustainable.



Expensive and energy hungry - possible measure of last resort


River Murray

The River Murray is failing and should not be relied on as a long term supply.




Precious water falls from the sky in abundance on the Adelaide plains.  But instead of capturing it we dump it in the sea where it causes damage.  Stormwater is a cheaper, more sustainable, and in some cases, faster option for Adelaide than desalination.  We need:

  • major investment in, and immediate implementation of, a metropolitan-wide stormwater harvesting program in partnership with local governments and SA Water.  Priority areas include the Airport, Oaklands Park, Cheltenham, Mitchell Park and Camden Park;
  • changes to the Development Act to ensure the good water capture sites are preserved in new developments; and 
  • an urgent, high priority assessment of aquifer storage capacity. 

Doing better with the water we've already got  (demand management)

Despite receiving less rain than all other capital cities, we use comparatively large amounts of water – around 280 litres per person per day.  In SE Qld between 2005 and 2007 consumption was reduced from 300 to 129 litres per day through a comprehensive demand management program.  We need to:

  • change water pricing to remove the fixed sewerage and property-based charges and replace with a charge based only on water use;
  • reduce mains pressure to less than 500 kPa at the household level;
  • commence a major demand management program for industrial/commercial users which includes a pricing review and mandatory water efficiency management plans for large volume businesses; and
  • embrace a comprehensive water reduction program for households involving a target of 140 litres of mains water per person per day (averaged over 12 months, ie more in summer, less in winter), much better information to households (including detailed comparisons of use on water bills and more frequent meter reads) and greater incentives and support for water saving measures. 

Protecting Mt Lofty catchments and Groundwater

The Mount Lofty Ranges will remain a vital water source even with an expected 30% reduction in run-off through climate change.  Groundwater under the Adelaide plains is currently extracted at an unsustainable rate instead of being reserved for emergency supplies.  We need to:

  • prescribe the quaternary aquifer under the Adelaide plain and meter all residential and commercial use; and
  • protect the Mount Lofty catchments from excessive development. 

Using water more than once (wastewater re-use)

There are no linear systems in nature.  Everything is used and re-used.  Currently in Adelaide, water starts in the Hills or in the eastern states, is used once and then is dumped in the sea as wastewater.  While suitable now for irrigation, toilet flushing and other industrial purposes, wastewater is cheaper and easier to convert into usable water than sea water.  As wastewater is the one source of water that increases with population growth, it provides the greatest potential for secure water supplies into the future.  We need to:

  • consider locating a reverse osmosis (desalination) treatment plant at Bolivar to treat wastewater as an alternative to the Adelaide Desalination plant at Port Stanvac.  Unlike, the Port Stanvac proposal, this alternative will improve the marine environment of Gulf St Vincent; and 
  • require SA Water to comply with Adelaide Coastal Waters Study recommended reduction in wastewater dumping within 5 years (75% reduction from 2003 levels) through sewer mining, reticulation from treatment plants to big water end users and second pipes into new developments. 

Rainwater tanks at home

Capturing rain off our roofs and plumbing clean water directly into our houses is a great solution.  The biggest barrier is cost.  Direct Government assistance to households to retro-fit households with rainwater tanks doesn't compare well with the cost of aquifer storage and recovery of stormwater, or good demand management.  That's not to say we shouldn't be doing it, especially for new houses.  We need to:

  • preserve current incentives for households to install and connect tanks;
  • keep rainwater capture outside any water restriction regime; and
  • explore the option of allowing customers to pay off the cost of tanks as part of their quarterly water bill. 

Weaning Adelaide off the Murray

Adelaide can no longer rely on the River Murray as the major source of its water supply.  The River is failing due to long term over-allocation and measures planned to prop up the pumping of River Murray water to Adelaide, such as a Weir at Wellington, will make it much, much worse.  Although the Rann Government has proposed an expansion of the Mount Bold reservoir to 'increase' the capture of water from the Mount Lofty Ranges, this 'expansion' will be mainly used to store water pumped from the River Murray – water which simply won't be reliably available into the future.  We need to:

  • urgently wean Adelaide off the Murray;
  • permanently scrap plans for a weir across the Murray to prop up Adelaide's water supply; and
  • scrap the proposed Mt Bold reservoir expansion. 

A transformed SA Water

SA Water is forced to return large profits to the State Government at the expense of investing in sustainable water options.  We need:

  • to transform SA Water from a water supply and selling agency into a water conservation agency by replacing Government profit targets with specific water conservation and security targets.



Major Desal Projects in SA

Desalination is increasingly seen as the 'magic bullet' to cure our water shortages.  But is it?

Instead of building large-scale sea water desalination plants, the Greens believe we should be identifying creative ways to maximise water efficiency and capture of rainwater, reduce our demand for water, and increase re-use of storm water, as well as addressing the vexed issue of pricing.

We can and must get smarter, and quickly. Otherwise very expensive ‘bottled electricity’ will soon be flowing through a system that is leaking like a sieve through poor priorities, inefficient appliances and leaky pipes.

Before we expend vast amounts of money and energy artificially manufacturing new water, we should be doing much more with the water we have now.

The Greens have been vocal critics of a number of current desalination projects proposed for SA.

Port Stanvac

A major desalination plant is being planned at Port Stanvac to provide 50% of Adelaide's water by 2012. The 100 GL plant would cost at least $2 billion and would draw water from, and discharge waste into St Vincent's Gulf.

The Greens have raised many questions about this proposal.  Ultimately, we believe this plant should not go ahead unless the following strict conditions are met:

1. No negative marine environmental impact;

2. Powered by 100%, new renewable energy;

3. 100% Government owned and controlled;

4. Much greater investment first in alternative water security options.

The Greens believe this proposal is a massive missed opportunity and the wrong water security project for Adelaide

Also, we want the Government to commit to it being powered by 100% new renewable energy, as the plant will be very energy hungry.  It would be a tragic irony if a desalination plant adds to the climate change problem which is the main reason for our parlous water security!  So far, the Government has only committed to the plant being 'carbon neutral', which isn't a strong enough commitment, and raises more questions than it answers.  The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has been critical of corporations that make unfounded claims of "carbon neutrality". 

There are also serious questions about its impact on the marine environment.  The area off Port Stanvac is a very delicate coastal zone, home of many rare species.

Ultimately, the Government must remain in control, so that the plant can be switched off when required.  We must avoid the type of 'take or pay' clauses that exist interstate, whereby we are obliged to take the water or pay for it, even if it isn't needed.

Upper Spencer Gulf (BHP Billiton)

BHP Billiton is proposing to build the largest desalination plant in the Southern Hemisphere at Point Lowly, north of Whyalla. The plant will supply the Olympic Dam mine expansion at a rate of 120 mega-litres per day, drawing water from, and discharging waste into, the Spencer Gulf.

The Upper Spencer Gulf is arguably the worst place on the South Australian coast to build a desal plant.  Hyper-saline brine will be dumped only 600 metres away from the breeding grounds of the extraordinary and majestic giant Australian cuttlefish. 

The lack of decent water flushing in the upper reaches of the Gulf means the risk of a build up of salinity over time is very real.  This is an extremely poor proposal that has alarmed marine scientists. 

Also, the Greens have raised serious questions about how much the State Government is subsidising one of the world's richest companies.

There are alternatives.  In the past, Mark has called for serious consideration to be given to using treated effluent from Bolivar at Olympic Dam, implementing an SA Water 'Bolivar to Billiton' plan.

If the SA Government ultimately allows BHP Billiton to build their desal plant, then the plant must be placed well away from the delicate marine environment of the Upper Spencer Gulf.  One alternative site, with better ocean flushing, is on the West Coast of Eyre Peninsula, near Ceduna, however BHP Billiton is reluctant to spend the additional money for a longer pipeline to the mine.  BHP Billiton is also yet to commit to new renewable sources of energy to power the desal plant and associated pumping requirements.

Click here to find out more about what the Greens have said about this proposal.

More resources:

Mark speaking at an Olympic Dam Expansion Protest

Mark's interview with ABC Radio

Mark's interview with Central TV 

Mark speaking at a Desalination forum in Whyalla.

Port Hughes

After local residents raised concerns about a proposal to build a desal plant at Port Hughes near Moonta on the Yorke Peninsula, Mark Parnell helped the local Community Action Group organise a community forum.   

There was a huge interest with over 300 local residents from Port Hughes, Moonta and surrounding areas filling the Moonta Town Hall on 22nd May 2008.  

In response, the local Council and developer stepped away from their previous high profile support for the desalination plant, to look at alternative water supply options to water the Greg Norman-designed golf course - which is at the heart of the residential development.

What's Next?

If you are concerned about these issues and want to see water security that doesn't literally cost the earth, then here's how you can make a difference. 

How you can make a difference....

  • Write to your local State and Federal Members of Parliament urging them to explore other water options before desalination. Click here for contact details.

  • Take action at home, in your workplace and neighbourhood to install rainwater tanks (plumbed into your home), dual flush toilets and water efficient fixtures in kitchens and bathrooms.  Check out the latest financial subsidies for installing and connecting rainwater tanks.

  • Write to your local paper, or ring talkback radio calling for urgent investment in vital stormwater infrastructure and demand management.

  • Join The Greens and get involved in grass roots campaigning!

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