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For the first time, residents and businesses in Marla can access safe and clean drinking water directly from their taps, with SA Water’s new desalination plant now operating in the Far North South Australian town.

Located just over 1,000km north-west of Adelaide, Marla is at the junction of the Oodnadatta Track and the Stuart Highway, with around 70 people calling it home. The community’s water supply has historically been designated as non-drinking, with residents previously sourcing their own drinking water from private rainwater tanks, water carting or bottled products.

The town’s small-scale desalination plant is now producing drinking-quality water for locals to use in their kitchens, bathrooms, laundries and gardens.

SA Water’s General Manager of Sustainable Infrastructure Amanda Lewry said this is the utility’s second drinking water

SA Water General Manager of Sustainable Infrastructure at the containerised desalination plant in Oodnadatta. Image/SA Water

upgrade for a remote town in the past 12 months.

“Having delivered a new desalination plant for our customers in nearby Oodnadatta last August, it’s exciting to see yet another of the state’s iconic outback towns enjoying safe, clean drinking water flowing through their pipes for the first time,” Ms Lewry said.

“Whether it’s greening the garden or topping up the kettle straight from the tap, we recognise the significance this upgrade is already having on promoting health and hydration, along with the positive social and economic opportunities it’s providing.

“Marla’s desalination plant – constructed inside a shipping container to help protect the infrastructure from the sometimes harsh weather experienced in the area – can produce up to 87,000L of water each day.

“Drawing water supply from the largest groundwater basin in Australia, the Great Artesian Basin, the plant’s reverse osmosis technology pushes the sourced supply through a semipermeable membrane designed to separate the water and salt molecules.

“The purified water continues through the membrane for further cleaning and treatment to make sure it meets the requirements under the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (2011), before being stored inside an on-site 539,000L capacity tank, for distribution through a network of pipes to the town.

“The brine by-product created in the desalination process is diverted in the other direction, to be stored in the large on-site large evaporation basin.”

According to Ms Lewry, it took an extensive planning and delivery process to reach the plant’s first water milestone.

“Delivering a remote facility of this size and scope is a sizeable task, including the necessary design, procurement, community engagement, construction and testing required to ensure our customers’ supply meets the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act (2011) and the Safe Drinking Water Regulations (2012),” Ms Lewry said.

“Adding into this complexity are the challenges that come with distance, with Marla’s far north location more than 1000km north of Adelaide’s CBD.

“Having delivered a total of 12 desalination plants across the state – five of which service remote Aboriginal communities in the state’s Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands and Far West Coast – we are well experienced in the requirements to not just deliver plants such as this, but sustainably operate them for decades to come.

“We’ve worked closely with the Marla community to get to this historic point throughout the important project, and we encourage locals and tourists passing through the South Australian outback to give Marla’s new desalinated tap water a try!”

More upgrades on the way
In the face of climate change, SA Water recognises the importance of delivering resilient and secure drinking water sources, including desalination.

Marla is one of three outback communities confirmed for an upgrade to their non-drinking water supply during SA Water’s 2020–24 regulatory period, with the township of Oodnadatta’s new desalination plant producing its first flush of drinking water for around 200 residents last year.

While both town’s new facilities harness ultrafiltration feed pumps, dosing pumps and systems, and reverse osmosis pumps with production levels ranging from 1.5 to 4L per second, each site is individually designed to reflect the location’s unique conditions.

“Having seen the positive benefits Oodnadatta’s upgrade has delivered for the town, including the iconic Pink Roadhouse, we are incredibly excited to see the same outcomes reaped by our customers in Marla,” Ms Lewry said.

“We’re not done either, with a small-scale desalination plant set to be producing safe and clean tap water in coming months for the Marree in South Australia’s Far North.

“We recognise the important role a sustainable drinking water source plays in maintaining health, supporting hydration and facilitating future growth and development, and we look forward to delivering these important initiatives for our remote customers.”

Additionally, progress is continuing on water quality upgrades to existing water supply systems in the regional towns of Yunta, Manna Hill and Terowie in the state’s north-east, with each set to be completed by mid 2024.

“These important upgrades will improve both the quality and reliability of supply for our local customers through the construction of new storage tanks and disinfection treatment stations to better maintain water quality throughout the local pipe networks.

“Yunta, for example, is currently supplied by water carters drawing from our existing water network in Peterborough –
approximately 80km south of the town,” Ms Lewry said.

“The new disinfection unit will add another point of water treatment, helping to maintain a more consistent quality of supply from when the water is first treated at the Morgan Water Treatment Plant to our customers’ taps.”

Featured image: the new desalination plant in Marla. Image/SA Water

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