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Hunter Water has been granted planning approval to deliver a new desalination plant in Belmont, NSW – providing an enduring supply of water for the Lower Hunter region. 

The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment approved planning for the new plant, which will produce up to 30 million litres a day of drinking water, in response to droughts that have ravaged the Hunter region in recent years. 

Hunter Water Managing Director, Darren Cleary, said the planning approval provides the Lower Hunter with certainty should an additional source of water be needed during drought.

“With assessment of this important project now complete, the plant’s detailed design and construction can begin for when it’s needed,” Mr 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. 

“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.”

The approved Belmont plant’s water production capacity is double than originally proposed. The plant was increased from 15 million litres per day to 30 million litres per day, to provide greater drought security and reliability, improve efficiency and deliver greater value for money for the Lower Hunter community.

The planning approval also confirms the direct ocean seawater intake system, which involves piping seawater from a kilometre offshore.

NSW Minister for Water, Property and Housing, Melinda Pavey, said that the Hunter was one of the worst hit areas by recent droughts. 

“Regional communities endured the worst drought on recent record and we are working to better drought-proof our communities. 

“The Lower Hunter’s storages are relatively small and shallow, resulting in water levels dropping quickly. In a severe drought, water storages can drop from typical operating levels to 15 per cent in less than three years.” 

Mr Clearly said, “Fortunately, the drought broke with good rainfall. 

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

The planning approval is supported by comprehensive environmental impact investigations, which indicate that potential impacts can be mitigated through detailed design and delivery.

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.

Mr Clearly said that the Belmont plant is now part of the Hunter region’s ongoing water security package. 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  the region that caters for growth and can respond to the impacts of drought and climate variability. 

The draft Lower Hunter Water Security Plan will be released for public comment on Monday 9 August 2021.

Update 9 August 2021

To read about the now released draft Lower Hunter Water Security Plan, click here. 

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