Timeline

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Up to 1993

1993

From the early 1900s, dam building was the main means of increasing the water supply for Sydney, the Blue Mountains and the Illawarra. With Warragamba Dam completed in 1960, Sydney had access to one of the largest water storages per person in the world.

The large storage recognised that rainfall in the dam catchments was uncertain. The region experienced serious droughts in 1901-02 and from 1934-42. Both prompted the building of new dams.

During the 1970s a series of dams was built on the Shoalhaven River that would supplement power supplies and could also be used to top up Sydney's water supplies in times of drought. The Shoalhaven Scheme was to culminate with the construction of Welcome Reef Dam. The plans for Welcome Reef Dam were placed on hold in 1993. Plans for the dam were permanently deferred in 2002.

The Sydney Catchment Authority manages Sydney's water supply dams.

2002

2002

Population growth and drought again combined to put pressure on Sydney's water supply. As well, climate change research indicated that rainfall might become even less reliable in the future, particularly over the large Warragamba catchment.

Sydney Water implemented voluntary drought restrictions in November 2002, which became tougher over the next couple of years. Customers responded well, and the reduced rate of water use, combined with inflows from the Shoalhaven Scheme, provided time to decide how best to secure the water supply for coming decades.

2004

2004

The NSW Government released the 2004 Metropolitan Water Plan, which adopted three solutions:

  • water recycling
  • improved water efficiency
  • measures to increase supply including desalination

Together these solutions were to balance water supply and demand in the future.

In October 2004, the government announced it would set aside $4 million to study the feasibility of building a desalination plant in Sydney.

2005

2005

The feasibility study started in 2004 confirmed that desalination was viable for Sydney and considered the most suitable type, size and location for a desalination plant. The desalination project was deemed ‘critical infrastructure', or essential for the population's wellbeing.

The benefits of desalination that made the project viable were:
  • Large-scale desalination plants were a proven and reliable technology that used a lot less power than in the past.
  • Sydney had access to good-quality seawater.

While this was happening, level 3 drought restrictions began.

2006

2006

The 2006 Metropolitan Water Plan, a plan that secured Sydney's water supply to 2015, was released.

Measures to be implemented included:
  • water recycling that would provide up to 12% of Sydney's water needs by 2015
  • water efficiency initiative to save about 24% of the water supply by 2015
  • projects to make more efficient use of water storages
  • a desalination plant to provide 15% of Sydney's water needs

Blueprints began on the desalination plant.

2007

2007

From January 2003 until January 2007, weekly dam storage readings fell 161 times and rose only 36 times. The lowest point was early February 2007 when the storage dropped to 33.9%.

The construction of the desalination plant and linking pipeline began.

2010

2010

Water from the desalination plant supplied to customers.

The NSW Government released the 2010 Metropolitan Water Plan that built on the successful core elements of earlier plans. It discussed:
  • continuing to source most of Sydney's drinking water from our dams
  • investing in recycling to reduce the demand for drinking water
  • supplying up to 15% of Sydney's current water needs through desalination
  • reducing the water needs of households, businesses, government and farms, with innovative water efficiency programs

The plan secures greater Sydney's water supply until at least 2025.

St Marys Water Recycling Plant was launched in October 2010. It can produce up to 18 billion litres of highly treated recycled water a year and is Sydney's largest water recycling project. Highly treated recycled water is used to help maintain the flow of the Hawkesbury-Nepean River. This reduces the nutrients in the river and means more water is available in Warragamba Dam for drinking.

2015

2015

Although the current scale of alternative sources to dams is still modest, it is increasing and, by 2015, about a quarter of Sydney's total drinking and non-drinking water needs should be coming from desalination and recycling.

2030

2030

The Sydney Water Balance Project provided research that has tried to determine the potential impacts of climate change on greater Sydney's water supply and demand.

According to its findings, climate change:
  • will likely result in an increase in temperature by 2030
  • may result in an increase in evaporation throughout the catchments, with the most significant increase being recorded in the Goulburn area (which reflect evaporation changes in the inland areas of Sydney catchment
  • may result in a very minor increase in water demand in greater Sydney by 2030.

2036

2036

Sydney's population is expected to reach six million (currently about 4.5 million).

Should Sydney's total dam storage level drop again under severe drought conditions, the government could take the decision to build the second stage of the desalination plant – essentially upscaling the existing plant to supply twice as much water. Exact timing of the decision would be influenced by predicted weather patterns, seasonal and projected demand levels.