Seafood industry up in arms as Eyre Peninsula desal plant site chosen

SA Water has formally chosen Billy Lights Point as the location for Eyre Peninsula’s future desalination plant.

The plant at Boston Bay will be used to provide a reliable source of drinking water to supplement the existing supply from groundwater and the Murray River.

The proposal has drawn anger and protests from some locals and the fishing industry as the plant would be dispersing hyper saline water into surrounding bays that are shallow and protected.

Many aquaculture farms exist in these bays and believe they would be impacted, but SA Water says modelling has shown concentrated seawater can be adequately dispersed and there’ll be ongoing monitoring and research.

SA Water general manager of sustainable infrastructure Amanda Lewry said after considering 20 local sites, Billy Lights was the right location.

When asked if any stakeholders were in favour of Billy Lights Point as the appropriate site, Ms Lewry didn’t answer the question but said locals were in favour of SA Water getting on with constructing a plant to provide water security.

“Billy Lights Point best satisfies this criterion, providing reduced technical and environmental challenges, proximity to existing water and electricity networks,” she said.

Ms Lewry added that SA Water will be teaming up with the South Australian Research and Development Institute to conduct a $30,000 research program to look at the movement of particles within the bays.

Mussel industry concerned

Eyre Peninsula Seafoods chief executive Mark Andrews said he was shocked by the news and had only heard of the announcement second hand.

A fleet of boats sail close to a coast's edge.
A protest on water took place at Port Lincoln outside of SA Water’s future desalination plant site.(Supplied: Mark Thomas.)

He says his industry will be the most impacted as hyper saline water from the plant being discharged into the bays where his farms are could kill off mussel spat.

“There’s no mitigating practices, I can’t change my practices in the bay — we rely on mother nature,” Mr Andrews said.

Tuna industry stakeholders and experts have said tuna fish kills in Port Lincoln the nineties were historic and scientific evidence that shows there isn’t adequate flushing in the bay.

Former mayor lashes out

Former Wudinna mayor Tim Scholz is among those with environmental concerns about the project, he says governments on both sides have kicked the project down the road.

Recently independent senator Rex Patrick gained access to the Uley South Basin Report via a Freedom of Information request which detailed Eyre Peninsula’s water supply is years away from nearing a critical level. 

“We’re now in 2021 with only a couple of years to go before we need a desal plant up and running,” Mr Patrick.

Mr Scholz said now the supply is running low, residents have been backed into a corner.

A man wearing a cap
Tim Scholz said desalination plans affect all Eyre Peninsula residents from Port Lincoln to Penong.(ABC News: Evelyn Leckie)

“The issue around the location — water is critical but we don’t want to have water at the expense of another major disaster in our environment.

“Billy Lights is totally inappropriate.”

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