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Hunter Water welcomes planning approval for Belmont desalination plant

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The NSW Government is shoring up water security for the Lower Hunter with planning approval granted for a new desalination plant in Belmont.

And, Hunter Water has welcomed the announcement, with the development set to produce up to 30 million litres a day of drinking water in response to the drought.

Managing director Darren Cleary said the proposal’s green light provided an additional source of safe and reliable options for the region.

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

“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.

“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.

“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.”

Mr Cleary said planning approval for the Belmont desalination plant gave Hunter Water an additional tool to help close its supply gap during periods of drought.

“It’s terrific news,” he stated.

“The Belmont plant is now part of our region’s ongoing water security package.

“Hunter Water is now 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.”

The approved Belmont plant’s water production capacity is double that originally proposed.

It was increased from 15 million litres per day to 30 million litres per day to offer 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.

The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment’s approval is supported by comprehensive environmental impact investigations, which indicated that potential impacts can be mitigated through detailed design and delivery.

“This plant is a key action from the 2014 Lower Hunter Water Plan to help secure our water supply during drought, alongside conservation measures including reducing leakages, using groundwater from the Tomago Sandbeds, and water transfers between regions,” Minister for Water, Property and Housing Melinda Pavey said.

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

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