Engineering, procurement, and construction


    $3.4 billion




    Mining & Metals; Oil, Gas & Chemicals; Infrastructure

Delivering a reliable, sustainable water supply

Escondida water desalination plant construction included a new seawater desalination plant that is linked to the Escondida mine site in the Andes by two 112-mile (180-kilometer), 42-inch (107-centimeter) diameter lined pipelines.

Four high-pressure pump stations move water east from the port across the Atacama Desert and up to a reservoir at the mine, which is 10,500 feet (3,200 meters) above sea level. In addition, we delivered 75 miles (120 kilometers) of new 220-kilovolt transmission lines, built three new substations, and expanded four existing substations to power the system.

​The new plant includes an offshore intake and outfall system more than 65 feet (20 meters) below the surface of the Pacific Ocean. The system brings seawater into the desalination plant, filters much of its dissolved mineral and biological content using a reverse-osmosis process, and circulates extracted brine and other material back into the ocean. The desalinated water is pumped to the mine. EWS is the largest desalinization plant in the Americas and one of the largest in the world.

  • A rendering of EWS using CAD software
  • Personnel attend a pre-work safety meeting
  • The facility will ensure water supply to the world’s largest copper mine, which is located in one of the globe’s driest deserts

How Dry Is The Atacama Desert?

The Atacama Desert, a portion of which is home to the Escondida complex, is one of the driest places on Earth.

Average annual rainfall in the Atacama totals roughly six-tenths of an inch, or about 15 millimeters. Some locations, including Iquique, to which Bechtel is no stranger, receive much less moisture―on the order of 80 percent less.

In some parts of the Atacama―which extends in a relatively narrow band from southernmost Peru into northern Chile―humans have never recorded any precipitation. And yet more than 1 million people call it home.