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From maintaining hydration and protecting public health to supporting social and economic development, water is a critical part of everyday life. However for some outback towns, clean drinking water doesn’t flow freely from their taps. In an effort to provide better amenities to remote first nations communities and secure the state’s water supply, SA Water is looking to desalination.

For residents living in the South Australian outback town of Oodnadatta, a historic project by SA Water to construct a small-scale desalination plant has delivered safe and clean drinking water to their household taps for the first time.

With this plant one of five desalination facilities being delivered by SA Water in the coming years, the utility’s focus on sustainable and climate-independent water resources will be critical in building a resilient water future for years to come.

An historic outback upgrade

Located more than 1,000km north of Adelaide, the township of Oodnadatta lies in the heart of South Australia’s Far North, has a population of a few more than 200 people and is home to the iconic Pink Roadhouse.

SA Water’s water supply to Oodnadatta has historically been designated as non-drinking, with residents advised in detailed yearly letters of the need to source their own drinking water using sources such as private rainwater tanks, bottled products, or water carting, with water from the taps only suitable for uses such as washing dishes or flushing toilets.

Having spent recent years investigating options to upgrade the town’s water, SA Water’s General Manager of Sustainable Infrastructure, Amanda Lewry, said that to see and taste the first flow of safe and clean drinking water was a positive 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 that our customer’s supply meets the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act (2011) and the Safe Drinking Water Regulations (2012),” Ms Lewry said.

“To see our customers now be able to grab a glass of water or top up their kettles directly from the tap is such a fantastic outcome, and something that will make such a difference to the daily lives of those who live and work in Oodnadatta.

“Producing up to 210,000L of clean and safe water each day, the plant uses reverse osmosis technology to treat and remove salt and other impurities commonly found in the Great Artesian Basin, where the plant’s water is sourced from.

“The end result is safe, clean drinking water piped directly to our customers, with the saline by-product resulting from the treatment process stored in a 200-metre-long evaporation basin. “The plant was constructed inside a container in metropolitan Adelaide, before making the long journey on the back of a truck to its outback destination.

“As well as delivering water to residents and businesses in the town, the new plant will also supply our new drinking water fountain –complete with a solar-powered chilling system – providing an easy way for locals and travelers passing through Oodnadatta to fill-up their reusable water bottles for free.

“We are proud to have delivered this important project and look forward to seeing the benefits a new drinking water supply can bring to local customers for generations to come.”

Focusing on sustainability

Oodnadatta’s new water is part of a growing focus on desalination as a sustainable and climate independent source of drinking water production for SA Water, with the utility now operating a total of eleven desalination plants across the state – five of which service remote Aboriginal communities in the state’s Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands and Far West Coast.

There are also another three plants under construction and one in the planning and design stage. The largest of the operating facilities is the Adelaide Desalination Plant, which has supplied more than 200 billion litres of water to metropolitan areas since coming online in 2011.

“With a drying climate and increasing customer demand set to reduce our available water sources over the coming decades, we understand the need to deliver secure and resilient sources of drinking water,” Ms Lewry said. “Desalination provides us with a sustainable solution to provide water services for our customers, including in remote and regional areas of South Australia.”

SA Water is in the process of completing construction on two similar containerised reverse osmosis plants at Marla, also in the state’s Far North, and Maree in the Far North-East, with the first supply of safe, clean drinking water for local customers in these communities set to start flowing for the first time within 2023–24.

“We know the positive social and economic impact having access to drinking water can provide, and we’re excited to see all three of our new outback treatment plants up-andrunning over the coming months,” Ms Lewry said.

“We also continue to make progress on the delivery of larger desalination plants for the Eyre Peninsula and Kangaroo Island, which, when constructed, will be a significant boost in providing a resilient and sustainable water supply to thousands of our customers into the future.”

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