Our Coast Matters

From Southern Times Messenger, where I was a reporter for 18 months (helping it become one of three finalists in News Corp’s Australia-wide 2008 “Community Newspaper of the Year”)

THE fast-tracking of Adelaide’s desalination plant – without a government response to environmental concerns about Gulf St Vincent – is being taken as a grim sign by worried marine scientists and eco-lobbyists.

The say the government obviously regards the $1.37 billion plant as a fait accompli despite warnings of the dire environmental consequences for the Gulf.

Earthworks began last month at the Port Stanvac site; the multi-national consortium AdelaideAqua was named last week as the preferred bidder to build the plant; and work on the plant itself is slated to begin in April.

Yet the government has not responded to almost 40 submissions to the project’s Environmental Impact Statement.

The rising level of anger comes this week as the Southern Times Messenger launches Our Coast Matters, a campaign to highlight issues affecting our coastline and the way it is used or abused.

Friends of Gulf St Vincent president John Caldecott said no work should have started at Port Stanvac until an EIS response was released by the government.

“I think it’s wrong and it’s arrogance by this government charging ahead with an important project without the EIS process – the public scrutiny process – being completed,” he said.

Save Our Gulf Coalition chairman Peter Laffan said evidently the government had already made up its mind.

“Everything is full steam ahead but there has been no response to the EIS comments,” he said.

“So there’s all this criticism out there of the plant which still stands and hasn’t been answered.

“Until they do answer it satisfactorily, and I don’t think they’ll be able to, there’s going to be problems.”

Flinders University scientists oceanographer Dr Jochen Kaempf and marine biologist Dr Kirsten Benkendorff highlighted the potential environmental problems in their EIS submissions.

Dr Kaempf, who previously called on SAW Water to consider relocating the plant, said it would have negative impacts on seagrasses and marine life because of the Gulf’s shallow depth and dodge tides.

His submission said the plant’s current discharge design risked “severely compromising the health of the marine environment”.

In her submission, Dr Benkendorff said the predicted reduced pH level, elevated temperatures and the accumulation of a dense brine layer could have “significant implications for marine species”. “Irreversible damage cannot be excluded as a long-term consequence at this stage,” she said.

Among the concerns contained in the submissions from scientists, environmental and fishing groups, councils and residents:

  • The risk of marine pollution caused by desalination brine had been significantly underestimated in the EIS;
  • If the project went ahead without changes, the operators likely would not be able to meet Environmental Protection Authority conditions; and
  • the EIS contained little information about how the environmental impact of the plant would be monitored.

Impact will be ‘minor’

WATER Minister Karlene Maywald says the environmental impacts of the desalination plant on Gulf St Vincent will be “minor”.

“We are confident all environmental matters have been thoroughly investigated and there will be no surprises,” Ms Maywald said in an emailed statement to the Southern Times Messenger.

“The State Government will not compromise the health of the Gulf St Vincent and will meet all the conditions of its EPA licence.”

Ms Maywald said an independent review panel had backed the project’s Environmental Impact Statement, prepared by SA Water, and the government would release its response to almost 40 submissions to the EIS within a few weeks.

Premier Mike Rann sad last week the government had applied for federal funding to increase the plants capacity from 50 billion  litres a year to 100 billion litres, which would provide half of Adelaide’s water supply. A decision on the funding application is expected to be announced in March or April.