Our History

Sydney Desalination Plant was constructed in response to the worst drought in 100 years, which saw Sydney’s dam levels fall to 34%.

Sydney Desalination Plant History

The project was funded by the NSW Government and was originally owned by Sydney Water Corporation (SWC). Construction of the desalination plant took 3 years from 2007-2010. A purpose built wind farm was constructed by Infigen to provide 100% renewable energy for the plant. The first desalinated drinking water was delivered to Sydney in February 2010. The plant then ran continuously for 2 years, from 2010 to 2012, to prove plant capacity and reliability.

The NSW Government sold a 50 year lease on the plant in June 2012 backed by a 50 year water supply contract with SWC. The bid was won by a consortium of Utilities Trust of Australia (UTA), The Infrastructure Fund (TIF)Hastings Funds Management and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan at a cost of $2 .3 billion which includes the plant and the pipeline connecting the plant to the water supply network.

As a monopoly supplier of desalinated water to Sydney, the Sydney Desalination Plant is regulated by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART). The plant is licensed under the NSW Water Industry Competition Act.

Dam levels rose to 98% in June 2012 and under the rules of the NSW Metropolitan Water Plan the plant came offline and into water security mode (standby mode). Sydney Desalination Plant Pty Limited has a 20 year contract with an operator, Veolia Water. Veolia operate and maintenance the plant and pipeline. Australia operate the plant under a 20 year contract and have up to 8 months to restart the plant once the instruction to restart is given. According to our operating rules, as set out by the government, the plant will be instructed to restart when Sydney’s total metropolitan dam levels fallfor below 60% and we have up to 8 months to reach full capacity.

Sydney Desalination Plant Timeline

Winter 2002 – Worst drought in 100 years commenced

2003 – 2007 – From January 2003 to January 2007, weekly dam storage levels fell 161 times, and rose only 36 times

August 2004 – Sydney desalination feasibility study announced

2004 – 2005 – The desalination feasibility study considered the most suitable type, size and location

2005 – 2006 – Environmental Assessment exhibition and consultation takes place

May 2005 – Study confirms that desalination is viable for Sydney

June 2005 – First round of tendering to build desalination plant and pipeline begins

September 2005 – Desalination project deemed ‘critical infrastructure’

December 2005 – Two shortlisted tenderers announced

January 2006 – Downpours increase dam storage from 40.7% to 44.7%

February 2006 – Tender process terminated and project put on indefinite hold

March 2006 – Work starts on blueprint design

December 2006 – With dam storages continuing to fall, second round tendering begins for the plant and pipeline

February 2007 – Sydney’s dam levels drop to 33.9%. Sydney Water calculates that work on a desalination plant will need to start by June 2007 to avoid running out of water. Board of Sydney Water recommends to NSW Government that desalination plant be built

February 2007 – Two shortlisted tenderers to build desalination plant announced. NSW Government announces plant will definitely be built

February 2007 – Tendering to build the desalination pipeline begins

April 2007 – Second Environmental Assessment conducted

May 2007 – Water Delivery Alliance announced as preferred consortium to develop detailed costing for pipeline

June 2007 – Blue Water Joint Venture – John Holland and Veolia Water Australia – announced as successful tenderer to build the desalination plant. Construction of the desalination plant begins

August 2007 – Environmental controls put in place

December 2007 – Water Delivery Alliance’s target cost for pipeline is accepted. Construction of the pipeline begins

21 April 2008 – First piece of pipeline installed

Mid 2008 – Sydney Water signed 20 year contracts with Infigen for electricity, Renewable Energy Certificates and the construction of the Capital Hill Wind Farm

Mid 2009 – Blue Water, the Water Delivery Alliance and Sydney Water worked intensively to commission the plant and pipeline ready for start-up

August 2009 – Seawater was successfully brought in through the intake tunnel and returned to the ocean through the outlet

September 2009 – Testing of the pipework at high pressure in the reverse osmosis building began

October 2009 – The Capital Hill Wind Farm became fully operational

December 2009 – 36,000 reverse osmosis membranes were placed into the pressure vessels

16 December 2009 – First sample of desalinated water was produced

19 December 2009 – Last piece of pipeline installed

18 January 2010 – Pipeline declared ‘ready for water’ after flushing and disinfection

21 December 2009 – NSW Premier announced that the plant was 95% complete

28 January 2010 – NSW Premier Kristina Keneally and Minister for Water. Phil Costa, switch on the plant and officially send the water on its way to customers. The Premier declared the water ‘delicious’, and noted the project was not only on time, but at least $60 million under budget

June 2012 – NSW Government sold 50 year lease on the plant backed by a 50 year water supply contract

June 2012 – Bid was won by a consortium of Utilities Trust of Australia (UTA), The Infrastructure Fund (TIF)Hastings Fund Management and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan at a cost of $2.3 billion, which includes the plant and pipeline

June 2012 – Sydney metropolitan combined dam levels Sydney dam levels rose to 98% and under the rules of the NSW Metropolitan Water Plan the plant came offline and entered water security mode (standby mode)

July 2012 – Regulated by IPART as a monopoly supplier of desalinated water

December 2015 – Tornado hit the Kurnell area causing damage to the plant. A reinstatement plan was agreed with government to repair the plant and have it ready to respond to a drought trigger by December 2018.

October 2018 – Plant tornado reinstatement complete. Plant ready to respond to drought trigger when it occurs

27 January 2019 – Sydney metropolitan combined dam levels fell below 60%, thus the plant is in restart.

Mid-July 2019 to present – Plant operates at full capacity of 250 million Litres per day.