The Federal and South Australian governments have jointly committed $15 million to a business case which will move the Northern Water Supply project forward.

The Federal Government has invested $5 million, building on South Australia’s $10 million commitment to the project, which will deliver a long-term sustainable water source for the state’s north.

Among the options being considered is a desalination plant located in the Upper Spencer Gulf, which would reduce water reliance on the Great Artesian Basin and the River Murray.

To support the business case, the South Australian Government has entered into a MOU with SA Water, BHP and Oz Minerals to progress the projects and address the region’s water needs.

If construction proceeds, the project could support up to 8,000 construction jobs and up to 6,000 ongoing jobs once operating.

Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, said delivering a secure and sustainable water source in the region would drive the growth of regional communities and industries.

“Our $5 million investment builds on the state’s $10 million commitment to progress a business case that will inform the future direction of this much-needed project, “ Mr Joyce said.

“A safe, reliable and sustainable water source will improve water security, create jobs and help unlock the economic potential of new and expanded opportunities for businesses in the state’s north.

“Since 2015, the Australian Government has committed more than $75 million from the National Water Grid Fund towards projects in South Australia.

“This includes projects supporting premium grape production in McLaren Vale, water security for farmers on the Coolanie Plains, and new water for agribusinesses through the Northern Adelaide Irrigation Scheme.”

Mines in northern South Australia rely on these sources for groundwater, which can be expensive to extract and can be affected by salinity and other water quality issues.

Previous attempts to provide a sustainable water supply to the vast region have not been successful because they have lacked a strong customer base.

South Australian Premier, Steven Marshall, said this was why it has been important for the State Government to play a coordinating role in bringing together a range of potential customers to make the project possible.

Mr Marshall also said the Northern Water Supply project has the potential to create thousands of jobs throughout South Australia.

“This project is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to secure a brighter future for South Australia and create jobs in an environmentally sustainable way,” Mr Marshall said.

“We are always looking for ways to ensure we are using water efficiently, because ongoing and secure access to water is integral to economic growth and regional communities rely on industry for jobs, community strength and resilience.

“A desalination plant is an option we will investigate to provide a sustainable and sufficient water supply to support many industries, including the burgeoning hydrogen industry, mining, horticulture, pastoral, agriculture sectors and the transition to green steel.

“To be able to partner with some of South Australia’s biggest companies to decrease reliance on our finite water resources and future-proof our state in a changing climate is really pleasing.”

Mr Marshall thanked all the parties, including the South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy, for their dedicated work to make the upcoming project possible. 

Federal Member for Grey, Rowan Ramsey, said the expansion of the resources industry in the north of the state was a reality and not some dream in the far-off future.

“South Australia already relies heavily on the resources industry and water is an essential ingredient to mine, concentrate and process our product,” Mr Ramsey said.

“Currently, this water is sourced from either the Great Artesian Basin or the Murray River, and trying to extract more from these sources is not environmentally sound.

“We are well aware of the long-term issues with the Murray and the Great Artesian Basin is a national treasure which is vital to our traditional grazing industries and small communities that continue to thrive in our harsh environment.

“While we know the basin replenishes, it is an incredibly slow process and maintaining the pressure in the basin is of paramount importance. Simply, we cannot continue to grow the resources industry without finding a new source of water.

“It is encouraging that our two biggest players in the industry, BHP and OZ Minerals, recognise the need and are part of the MOU. Desalination would seem the obvious answer, but there will be a whole lot of community concerns which will need to be addressed along the way. This project will do that.”

Industry leaders comment on MOU signing

BHP Asset President, Dr Jennifer Purdie, said BHP is pleased to be involved in a project that has the potential to support industry and agriculture in rural and regional South Australia, by improving water stewardship and creating opportunities for future investment and jobs.

“This is a positive step forward in BHP’s commitment to make our Olympic Dam operations more sustainable. We are taking action to reduce water use across our operations, and partnering with others in the communities and regions where we operate to help achieve this,” Ms Purdie said.

“South Australia has an important role to play in producing the high-quality copper the world needs to grow and decarbonise, and these types of projects can help us deliver more sustainably now and into the future.”

OZ Minerals’ Chief Executive, Andrew Cole, said the company is keen to play a part in collectively exploring a sustainable way forward that creates value for regional communities and industries.

“Water is an essential consumable for our operations and a critical resource for our stakeholders, particularly for the communities in which we operate, so we recognise the need to responsibly consume this water,” Mr Cole said.

“Although OZ Minerals does not draw from the Great Artesian Basin, we support this project for reducing consumption of groundwater and securing sustainable water sources for the future.

“Our South Australian Assets, Prominent Hill and Carrapateena, are in arid areas and use saline groundwater to sustain operations. Both assets use hypersaline water drawn from aquifers that do not compete with demand from natural systems or other land-connected people, and one of our aspirations as a modern mining company, is to strive to minimise water use and add value when we do.”

SA Water Chief Executive, David Ryan, said the corporation was pleased to support this initiative aimed at securing South Australia’s water future.

“In the face of a changing climate it’s critical we’re thinking ahead to ensure fit for purpose water is secured for the long term,” Mr Ryan said.

“Collaborating with private sector partners in an investigative process like this promotes the diverse thinking that will ensure all sources, delivery and service options are considered.”

Infrastructure Australia has recognised the importance of a new sustainable water source to improve water resilience and increase water supply to the northern parts of South Australia.

Infrastructure Australia has recognised the importance of a new sustainable water source to improve water resilience and increase water supply to the northern parts of South Australia.

More information can be found on the Northern Water Supply project website.

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