A desalination plant in South Australia built by a consortium involving an Australian civil construction company, a Spanish engineering outfit and a government body in Adelaide has taken home an international award for excellence in project management.

Announcing the award in New Orleans on the weekend, the Project Management Institute said the Adelaide Desalination Plant had won its Project of the Year award, edging out other finalists such as the Nemours Children’s Hospital Project in Florida and the Savannah River Site Recovery Act Project in South Carolina.

Built by the Adelaide Aqua joint venture involving Spanish engineering firm Acciona Agua, Adelaide-based civil construction outfit Trility and SA Water, the plant has been operating at full capacity since the end of last year and now delivers 100 gigalitres water to the Adelaide water network.

Despite the delivery date for ‘first water’ being pushed back July 31, 2011 as a result of construction delays – seven months behind the original schedule – full capacity was delivered 19 days early in December last year and within one per cent of budget.

The project was not always smooth sailing, however. The death of a worker killed after a steel beam fell from a crane on the site prompted suggestions about corners being cut amid time frame pressures resulting from the early delays.

Also, support for the project ebbed after the drought broke.

“The community’s perspective started out from one of cautious support to being strongly supportive and then when it rained, it was ‘Well, do we really need it,’” former Minister for Water Security Karlene Maywald said.

Project director Milind Kumar welcomed the award, which he says recognises the efforts of the project team in delivering a complex infrastructure development, as well as the team’s proactive approach to project management and a ‘one-team’ culture.

“The success of this project belongs to every person who has contributed to it during the past five years,” Kumar said. “Building a desalination plant of this calibre and quality is no easy feat, and the leadership team, specialist advisers, and project contractors brought their passion, commitment, and focus to deliver a quality asset.”

The latest award follows the project’s sucess at the International Project Management Association’s awards in September, where it took home the Gold award for Project Excellence in Mega-Sized Projects.

Despite the breaking of the drought, Maywald says the project was worth the cost and effort.

“We were looking down the barrel in this state of 1.1 million people running out of drinking water,” she said, referring to the government’s decision to build the plant. “Our contingency plan was to have bottled water at the ready to go. So we were in a situation where no government would ever want to be.”

“When we stand on top of the hill [now], and we look down and see what’s there, we see the water pumping through the system, we know that next time there’s a drought like this, our community is not going to experience what we experienced.”