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Rio Tinto’s claims may delay West Pilbara Seawater desalination plant

A water rights dispute could delay the construction of the $370 million West Pilbara Desalination Plant. In February 2011, the state government had stated that the project was on track.

Nine bidders had responded by January 2011; two will be shortlisted and the contract awarded in November this year. The 6 m3/year plant is expected to start producing water in April 2013 at an operating cost of $15 million a year.

The Australian Financial Review reports that Rio Tinto was in discussions with Water Corporation over the amount of water it is entitled to for its mining operations. Apparently, under rights established 40 years ago the miner is entitled to use 15 million m3/year. Rio Tinto currently uses around 5 million m3/year from the Millstream borefield, and is seeking its full entitlemement.

The West Pilbara desalination plant is being built to support residential and small commercial growth in Dampier, Karratha,Roebourne, Port Samson and Wickham. The Australian Financial Review states that the Water Corporation is seeking to limit Rio Tinto’s entitlement to 5.4 million m3/year given teh increasing needs of towns in the area.

Local politicians are encouraging Rio Tinto to develop a new 10 million m3/year borehole source at Bungaroo Valley. This may altogether eliminate the need to build West Pilbara Desalination Plant.

[Image courtesy Perth Now.]

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