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Hunter Water unveils its 40-year water security plan

Community engagement has formed a critical foundation for the first 40-year Lower Hunter Water Security Plan (LHWSP).

Developed in partnership with the New South Wales government, the plan includes new ways to reduce water use with the aim of balancing water supply and demand in the region effectively in future. 

Hunter Water Managing Director Darren Cleary said pursuing new water sources is an important step in ensuring the continued growth, liveability and quality of life in the region, but so is the continued management of the water the region already has. 

“We’re planning 40 years into the future with options to manage water for homes, industry and the environment,” he said.  

“We are lucky to have full dams today but we need to plan for tomorrow when that may not be the case.”

Community first 

The LHWSP has been informed and developed via significant engagement with the Hunter community, which Cleary said is an important step in ensuring the plan reflects community values and priorities. 

“The plan is a whole-of-government approach to ensuring the Lower Hunter region has a secure, resilient and sustainable water future that contributes to regional health and prosperity and is supported by the community,” he said. 

“Throughout the development of the plan, Hunter Water talked to the community and customers about their values and preferences for our water future.

“We looked at the data on our changing climate and the expected growth in the region, and analysed a range of demand and supply options to reduce the amount of drinking water we use and to supplement our water supplies.”

All the LHWSP actions attracted support from the community, Cleary said, with 97% of the community backing further water conservation and leakage reduction, which have become foundational elements of the plan.

“[People] across the region — from households and businesses to local councils and other stakeholders — have told us they want us to make better use of what we have through continuing our efforts to reduce our demand for water, but are also open to investing in new sources of supply and improving our readiness for future droughts,” he said. 

“We have worked with the NSW government to reflect these views and to incorporate our community’s values and aspirations in the plan.”

Informed by community consultation and technical analysis, four key priorities have been identified within the plan, with a program of actions developed to meet them. 

The priorities under the plan include: 

  1. Ensuring the safety of drinking water by continuing to invest in catchment management and protection, and maintaining a multiple-barrier approach to the supply of safe drinking water. 
  2. Making the most of water resources by increasing investment in water conservation and increasing recycled water use for non-potable applications.
  3. Improving the resilience of the system by building a permanent desalination plant, a new connection to the proposed Lostock Dam–Glennies Creek Dam pipeline scheme, the continuation of drought management and water sharing schemes, as well as the continued monitoring and evaluation of actions under the plan.
  4. Supporting water for life by improving knowledge sharing and increasing involvement of First Nations and Aboriginal people in strategic water planning, and improving the integration of land use and water planning to contribute to liveable communities. 

Delivering security

Cleary said Hunter Water has learned from past droughts about what is needed to make sure the region is prepared in the future, with the plan outlining a diverse program of actions that will ensure there is a sustainable and resilient water supply, no matter the weather or climate. 

“The plan will increase the region’s resilience by reducing our demand for drinking water, increasing recycling of water, investing in new sources of water, such as desalination and an inter-regional connection with the Upper Hunter, and being better prepared for future droughts,” he said. 

“Under Priority 2 of the plan, we will increase investment to support the Lower Hunter community to reduce water use by 17% compared to expected, and continue to invest in reducing network leaks. 

“But we will also increase recycled water use for non-drinking by 1.3 billion litres through new and expanded industrial schemes, more public open-space irrigation schemes, and continue to explore viable opportunities for recycling in new residential developments.”

Cleary said analysis conducted while developing the plan confirmed the Hunter region is more vulnerable to drought than previously thought and improving the resilience of the water supply system is paramount.

“To generate greater flexibility and to meet community expectations of a reliable water supply to withstand drought means acting now to support continued regional prosperity,” he said.

The plan also outlines the construction of a permanent desalination plant at Belmont to supply up to 30 million litres of water per day and a viability assessment of a Hunter Water connection to the Glennies Creek Dam–Lostock Dam scheme in the Upper Hunter.

“Hunter Water will also continue to explore the opportunity to access deep groundwater sources near Tomago and opportunities to reduce evaporation from our dams,” Cleary said.

In order to deliver on the plan's actions, Cleary said the NSW Government and Hunter Water are ready to invest, but community consultation also revealed a broad consensus for increased bills to help achieve the plan. 

“No Hunter Water customer bills change before 1 July 2025. Beyond 1 July 2025, we know from consultation our community broadly accepts that the investments we will be making are likely to increase annual residential bills by between $75 and $120,” he said. 

“That’s an increase of between 6 to 9% for the average residential customer. The increased amount depends on a range of factors like when major capital works happen, but Hunter Water pension rebates and hardship support considerations stay in place.”

Cleary said the utility is proud of its record of service to the region and is committed to continuing to put customers and community at the heart of its decisions and future plans, by acting on what matters most to them.

“And to do this, we need to make better use of what we have and we need to plan for a resilient future so we are best placed to respond to whatever challenges come our way,” he said.