DRINKABLE water from the desalination plant started flowing underground through 84 kilometres of pipeline and into Cardinia Reservoir last Wednesday – an achievement described as a “major milestone” by director for Thiess Degremont Services, Mike Jury.
Three years after construction began on the $3.5 billion plant, an invitation went out to media to tour the mammoth facility and be given an exclusive first taste of desalinated water.
Mr Jury said the plant was currently operating at a third of its capacity during its current testing phase and would be fully operational by the end of the year.
Once the plant is finished it will be subject to a 30-day maintenance period and then be officially ready to produce 150 billion litres of water per year.
But since Victoria’s water storage levels are hovering around 80 per cent, it could be years before the state is actually required to order any desalinated water.
The state government is under contract requirements to order between zero and 150 billion litres from the plant each year before April 1.
The first order was made last March, for zero gigalitres.
Mr Jury said the plant’s permanent workforce would be reduced to 52 employees by January.
“We had about 10,000 people passing through the plant, in terms of workforce, peaking at about 3200,” he said.
Last Wednesday there were 300 to 400 workers on site.
After trudging up a metal staircase, wandering along the 126,000 square metre ‘living roof’ – a vast expanse of greenery the same surface area of the MCG, viewing monitoring stations, the Seawater Lift Pumping Station and navigating through the maze-like Reverse Osmosis building, the Sentinel-Times was a little parched.
Patiently waiting my turn to grab a cup as reporters each took a swill, I finally managed to capture some of the unremarkable liquid streaming from one of several very-sterile-looking metal taps.
Truth be told, I didn’t let the water settle on my rear taste buds, and I didn’t suck in any air through my lips in the hope of revealing some hidden minerality.
After not having a drink for two hours of the tour (on a day when the temperature was nudging 25 degrees, no less), I sculled it.
Unsurprisingly, it tasted like water.
Or, more specifically, cold spring water, much like what you could buy for a few bucks at any supermarket.
During a brief press conference after the tasting, Mr Jury said the desalinated water “tastes like nothing.”
“And that’s the main object,” he said.
Mr Jury added that it takes 18 hours for water to be pumped from Bass Strait to eventually end up in the dam at Cardinia.