On September 12th the Chilean Environment Ministry’s Evaluation Service recommended approval for construction of a new desalination plant to supply drinking water in the Antofagasta region.
The project will cost $120 million USD, with work carried out by local water company Aguas Antofagasta.
When complete, the South Desalination plant will make Antofagasta the first city in Latin America to get 100 percent of its drinking water supply through seawater desalination.
Average rainfall in the Antofagasta region is just 1 millimeter per year. Desalination is viewed as the best alternative to meet water demand for the growing region, which has a Pacific coast and surrounded the Atacama desert, the driest in the world.
Aguas Antofagasta, which currently is known for its frequent water cuts, said the desalination plant would offer a solution to the area’s water problems for the next 10 years. However, it expects the city to grow in the next few years and says new sources of water will have to be found.
Currently, the company operates the desalination plant in La Chimba, which provides water to 60 percent of the population.
The new plant is designed to produce 1,000 liters of drinking water per second and meet the remaining 40 percent of the region’s needs.
The Antofagasta region is one of the main mining regions in Chile, and provides the country’s biggest chunk of export revenue, accounting for over 53 percent of Chile’s mining output.
Copper, potassium, gold, lithium and other minerals are extracted from Antofagasta.
The National Copper Corporation (CODELCO) recently invested $300,000 USD on a small-scale desalination initiative developed by Copper for Energy to benefit local fishermen.
Next month, Antofagasta will host the third International Desalination Seminar, organized by the Latin American Association for Desalination and Water Reuse and supported by Chile’s Ministry of Public Works.