Greater Sydney Desalination Program

Greater Sydney Desalination Program

Greater Sydney has experienced a severe and prolonged drought in recent years, which saw dam levels declining at unprecedented rates.

The NSW Government has tasked WaterNSW with planning for new sources of water supply for Greater Sydney, including the Illawarra region.

The Greater Sydney Desalination Program (GSDP) is investigating rainfall independent drinking water supply options for the future. The program, alongside other water efficiency, recycling and reuse options is a key component of drought response planning work required for the years ahead.

The water supply from the GSDP would be in addition to the NSW Government’s plans to expand the existing desalination plant at Kurnell (which currently supplies up to 15% of Greater Sydney’s water).

Under the GSDP, preliminary investigations are underway to further explore additional seawater desalination options that can provide future safe and secure supplies of drinking water for Greater Sydney, including the Illawarra.

Key benefits

Greater Sydney, including the Illawarra, are key contributors to the Australian and NSW economies.

Greater Sydney is now a global city with a high reputation for livability and a cultural diversity that attracts international investment and appeals to visitors. The NSW Department of Industry estimated Sydney’s economy accounts for almost a quarter of Australia’s Gross Domestic Product and 70 per cent of the NSW economy.

Greater Sydney currently has around five million people and this is expected to grow to 6.4 million by 2036. People in a growing city will need water for drinking, cooking, washing, making products, producing food, fighting fires, keeping cool, watering gardens and for recreational activities.

It is estimated that in 2017, the Illawarra contributed more than $16 billion to the state’s economy. Major metropolitan centres, like the Illawarra, need water supply certainty so that businesses can continue to invest, plan ahead, generate economic growth and increase local employment.

Having a safe, secure water supply for Greater Sydney including the Illawarra aligns with metropolitan and regional growth strategies over the coming years and will be key to continued prosperity, growth and wellbeing of the community.  A key aim of water supply planning is to ensure there is enough drinking quality water for the medium and longer term.

A safe, secure, supply

The GSDP will ensure a safe, secure supply of high-quality drinking water for Greater Sydney including the Illawarra.

Turning seawater into drinking water is a tried and tested technology that would mean future water supplies in Greater Sydney will be less affected by natural water quality and rainfall variations, the influence of changes in climate and importantly, better protected against future droughts.

Once desalinated, the water is treated to meet Australian drinking water standards and NSW Health requirements. This means the quality of water sourced from desalination will be as good to use as the water from all other sources in the Sydney Catchment.

The program will contribute to broader water security across the region, alongside dams, water efficiency and water reuse projects and will support meeting our future water needs.

Planning process

The first stage of the GSDP involves the early design and preliminary environmental assessment work. Based on the outcomes of this initial investigative phase, WaterNSW will then progress with a detailed project design, which would be subject to a rigorous and comprehensive environmental assessment (as illustrated below).

Early planning work for the GSDP includes the identification of potential sites for new desalination plants, pipeline routes and appropriate connection points into the water supply network. No specific sites have been selected for potential new desalination plants as yet.

Decisions on planning approval processes and whether to proceed to construction have also not yet been made. These will be carefully considered and progress to any subsequent stages of the program will be undertaken as required.

GSDP Timeline

Community engagement

A robust community engagement program will be carried out alongside the environmental assessment process. Feedback from the community will be taken into consideration before any decision is made regarding proceeding to construction of any plants.

In the meantime, WaterNSW is keen to receive feedback on the issues that are important to members of the community and understand what people see as the potential key benefits of the program. We invite you to complete this online survey to share your views.

WaterNSW will keep the community informed at every stage of the program with updated information on this webpage.

Contact us


For more information please contact us on:

Phone: 1800 333 626

Email: desalinationproject@waternsw.com.au

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Wednesday 01 April