‘Extreme’ conditions prompt Sydney Water to ramp up desalination plant

Sydney’s worst floods in decades prompted authorities to ramp up production from the city’s desalination plant even as billions of litres spilled from Warragamba and other dams.

The decision by Sydney Water to order the desal plant to switch from its standby mode to producing water was “to mitigate against the risk of variable raw water quality due to the ongoing severe wet weather,” a spokesman said.

The swollen Nepean River near North Penrith on Tuesday. Concerns about what quality have prompted authorities to ramp up production from Sydney’s desalination plant.Credit:Wolter Peeters

The plant was placed in its emergency response setting to enable a rapid production increase within 14 hours “to supplement the water supply for Greater Sydney…as a contingency”, the spokesman said. He did not how much water the plant is producing.

“We expect this may last for around two weeks but we will continue to monitor the situation,” he said.

“This action will reduce the pressure on the city’s water treatment plants which are dealing with the impacts of the one-in-50-year flood event and ensure we continue to deliver high-quality drinking water.”

Sydney’s desalination plant has been switched back on to ensure the city’s water quality levels are maintained during the extreme rainfall in the main catchments.Credit:Getty Images

The desal plant has the capacity to produce as much as 250 million litres of water a day, or about 15 per cent of Greater Sydney’s demand. The government considered beginning work to double capacity of the Botany Bay facility during the height of the recent drought but has since shelved the plan.

The plant remained in operation through most of last year even as water restrictions on Sydney were eased as authorities were concerned about water quality after the 2019-20 bushfires burnt out much of Warragamba’s catchment. Debris, including excessive nutrient inflows, raised the risk of an outbreak of cyanobacteria in the reservoir.

A spokeswoman for the Sydney Desalination Plant said: “in response to extreme weather conditions, Sydney Water requested production at the plant continue”.

“Having the plant online provides additional flexibility in the system while the current weather situation stabilises,” she said. “This will support ongoing supply of safe, high-quality drinking water to Sydney Water’s customers.”

The two officials said the situation will continue to be monitored on a daily basis to determine how long the plant will remain in operation.

On Tuesday, WaterNSW said Warragamba alone was releasing 240 gigalitres – or 240,000,000,000 litres a day – down from 300 gigalitres on Monday and 500 gigalitres on previous days.

“While rain continues across the catchment, inflows to the dam have fallen to 140 gigalitres a day,
well below projections,” trimming the predicted second peak of spills to 300 gigalitres a day, a WaterNSW spokesman said.

“Other Sydney supply dams are continuing to receive inflows, with Nepean, Cataract,
Cordeaux and Avon dams all spilling,” he said.

“On current forecasts it is likely Warragamba will spill for another week and thereafter lower
volume inflows into the dam storage could continue for some time.”

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