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Desalination plant approved for Lower Hunter

Hunter Water’s proposed Belmont desalination plant has received planning approval from the NSW Government, with the new plant to produce up to 30 million litres a day of drinking water in response to drought.

Hunter Water Managing Director Darren Cleary said the approval means an additional source of safe and reliable drinking water will be available for the region in times of severe drought.

Desalination is one of only a few water supply options that is rainfall independent, helping us to continue to support our customers and communities regardless of changes in weather or climate,” Cleary said.

“The Lower Hunter community gained a sense of what a prolonged and severe drought would be like when we all experienced the most recent drought through 2019-2020, which saw the introduction of water restrictions for the first time in many decades.

“Fortunately, the drought broke with good rainfall. The Lower Hunter’s water system can fall from typical levels to 15% in less than three years, even with the implementation of a range of drought response measures and restrictions.

“Had the drought continued beyond three years, our region could have run out of water.”

Flexibility for the future

Cleary said that while the utility has received community support to introduce significant restrictions on water consumption during drought, the desalination plant will provide more flexibility in terms of mitigating water security in future.

“Our community has told us that in times of severe drought, they would support adopting significant restrictions that would reduce water use to around 100 litres per person per day,” he said.

“This would reduce overall total water demand on the system from typical levels of 180 million litres a day to around 125 million litres a day.

“Planning approval for the Belmont desalination plant gives us an additional tool to help close our supply gap during periods of drought, providing Hunter Water with the capacity to provide up to an additional 30 million litres of water each day.”

Building water security

Following state government planning approval, the Belmont desalination plant is now part of Hunter Water’s ongoing water security package, Cleary said.

“Hunter Water is finalising the review of the Lower Hunter Water Security Plan, which will outline additional proposed supply and demand measures to ensure a resilient water supply for our region that caters for growth and can respond to the impacts of drought and climate variability,” he said.

The planning approval confirmed the direct ocean seawater intake system, which involves piping seawater from one kilometre offshore, and is supported by comprehensive environmental impact investigations.

The planning work for the desalination plant has been considered in the review of the Lower Hunter Water Security Plan, which is exploring a range of supply and demand options for the Lower Hunter community.