Drought Response Desalination

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We are seeking planning approval for a drought response desalination plant at Belmont.

Drought response desalination was part of the NSW Government’s 2014 Lower Hunter Water Plan as a last resort for drought security. While the likelihood of having to construct the desalination plant is low, we need to seek planning approval now so we are ready to build, should we need to in the future.

We are moving through the planning and approvals process. An updated proposal which responds to issues raised by stakeholders and our long term planning, is now available to review in a Response to Submissions

We are seeking planning approval for a drought response desalination plant at Belmont.

Drought response desalination was part of the NSW Government’s 2014 Lower Hunter Water Plan as a last resort for drought security. While the likelihood of having to construct the desalination plant is low, we need to seek planning approval now so we are ready to build, should we need to in the future.

We are moving through the planning and approvals process. An updated proposal which responds to issues raised by stakeholders and our long term planning, is now available to review in a Response to Submissions and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Amendment Report.

Submissions received during the public exhibition period are now being reviewed by both Hunter Water and the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE).

We will continue to update this page as planning progresses and encourage you to visit the DPIE Major Projects portal for regular updates and more detailed information including submissions received.


Please ask a question about this project, we will be pleased to assist you.

Q&A

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    Can this be solar powered?

    Fee asked over 1 year ago

    Thank you for your enquiry.

    Solar power was considered for the proposed desalination plant at Belmont. However, given how close the proposed site is to the ocean, solar power hasn’t been included due to the amount of maintenance that would be needed to keep the solar equipment in good working order. More information about this can be found in section 2.7.1.1 of the EIS (page 20).

    We welcome your feedback on this and other aspects of the proposed desalination plant. To make a submission, please visit the Department Planning, Industry and Environment major projects portal.


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    Wouldn't the money be better spent - updating infrastructure to reclaim waste water. How much fresh water goes down the sink, drain and toilet each day. We treat that and then release it to the ocean. To just then take that back and desal it - wouldn't it be better to spend the funds to reclaim the waste water which will be cleaner than chucking it in the ocean and then bringing it back and desalinating it.?

    anitabickle asked over 1 year ago

    Thank you for your feedback.

    Desalination was identified as a drought response measure under the 2014 Lower Hunter Water Plan, to be built and operated if storage levels reach critically low levels and after a range of water conservation measures have been implemented. 

    The 2014 Lower Hunter Water Plan also outlined recycled water initiatives including the Kooragang Recycled Water Scheme, the use of recycled water in residential housing at Gilleston Heights and Chisholm, and the use of recycled water in the private sector (such as in new housing estates at Huntlee and Cooranbong). These initiatives are in place and in 2017-18 we recycled 6,454 million litres of recycled water for municipal, industrial and agricultural use. In 2016-17 and 2017-18 we ranked in the top ten nationally among major water utilities for total recycled water supplied.   

    We’re currently carrying out a major review of the Lower Hunter Water Plan. As part of this, we’re considering a number of different options to reduce demand on drinking water and supplement water supplies to help secure our water future. Understanding community preferences about these option types, including recycled water, is a key part of this review. We encourage you to visit our Planning our water future Your Voice page to find out more and have your say.

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    How will the salt generated by the process be disposed of; will it be dumped in the lake, in the sea or sold?

    Chris Craig asked about 2 years ago

    Thanks for your question.

    Salt is removed from seawater during the desalination process as a concentrated seawater solution called brine. The current proposal is to pump brine from the temporary desalination plant to the existing Belmont Wastewater Treatment Works ocean outfall, where it would be returned to the sea, along with wastewater effluent, through a large pipe that already lies on the seabed. The effluent and brine would be dispersed using specially designed diffusers. This process would quickly return the brine and effluent to normal ocean salinity and temperature.

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    1. If the desal plant is commissioned and construction completed, how long would it take for the plant to become fully operational supplying 15 ML/day once it is "switched on"? 2. What would the average cost per household be when: a) the desal plant is operational (up until the target minimum storage is reached and then "switched off") b) the constructed desal plant is in "standby mode" (switched off) but ready to go for the next time storage drops to 35%, or whatever minimum level is set to trigger switching back on

    mike asked over 2 years ago

    Thank you for your questions.

    In response to your first question; in the event that water storage levels drop below 35%, construction would commence on the temporary desalination plant so that it can be commissioned and operated as soon as possible if storage levels continue to fall. However the plant would only commence operation if water storage levels were less than 30% when construction and commissioning is completed. 

    The length of time between completion of construction and the start of operation would depend on construction timing and the rate of storage depletion. The current design work will help to clarify this timing and risks for delivery.

    In response to your second question; once the design phase has been completed, we will have further detail on the cost of construction and operation. Part of this planning process is for Hunter Water to look at all possible options including how the plant will be funded. However, our research shows it will be at considerably less cost than other permanent desalination plants. A temporary plant presents as the most viable emergency water source option to help prolong supplies during a severe drought.

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    Is it true that the Desalination plant operating at Newstan Colliery to dewater the mine is pumping 10megalitres a day of clean water into a creek as Hunter Water refuses to take it for free? If so, why are we funding a new Desalination plant at Belmont!!

    Rod asked over 2 years ago

    Thank you for your question. The temporary desalination plant at Belmont would only be built in the event of a severe drought, when our water storage levels fall to an unprecedented 35%. This is to ensure funds are not expended on building the plant unless it is required. The purpose of the proposed temporary desalination plant is to supplement our existing water supply during such drought conditions, providing up to 15 megalitres per day of potable water (drinking water) for the duration of the drought.

    Prior to determining that Belmont was the best location for a temporary desalination plant, Hunter Water considered a range of other options including desalination of water sources other than seawater. Newstan Colliery (owned by Centennial Coal) was included in this process, where the potential for water to be extracted from the mine void at Newstan Colliery and treated for potable use was assessed. This assessment found that during drought conditions, the Newstan Colliery would only be capable of providing around 10 megalitres per day for a maximum period of around three months. This is an inadequate timeframe for supply of drinking water during drought conditions, which would likely extend for a much longer time period. Water from the Newstan Mine is not currently desalinated and additional treatment processes would also be required to meet recycled water quality standards.

    Hunter Water is working closely with the NSW Department of Industry and other stakeholders to undertake a major review of the Lower Hunter Water Plan (LHWP). The LHWP is a whole of government approach to ensure the Lower Hunter has sufficient water supplies to enable a sustainable future for our region. A range of supply and demand side options are being investigated through the LHWP, including using alternative water sources for non-potable use such as mine water, stormwater and recycled wastewater. The community will be engaged throughout this process to ensure our long term water planning reflects the values of our community.

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    When can we expect for the final report to be submitted to the Department for Planning?

    Wave415 asked over 2 years ago

    Hunter Water has started the planning approval process with community engagement and working on an Environmental Impact Statement. This will support the development application to the NSW Department of Planning. It is proposed that a final report will submitted to the Department of Planning by June 2019. The report will also be put on public exhibition for comment from the community, stakeholders and interested persons.

    Subscribe to our Your Voice page to receive project updates and alerts as we progress through the project. 

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    The following comment was submitted by a community member: "One way to reduce water usage would be to charge more for the use of water and less for the supply charge. The current system of high supply charges coupled with lower fees for the use of water does not encourage customers to use less water."

    TempDesalAdmin asked over 2 years ago

    Setting the right level of fixed and variable water charges is challenging. Currently, the typical household annual water and sewer bill is made up of a variable component of 37 per cent. However, variable charges can make up 89 per cent of the 2017-18 typical household annual water-only bill.

    Hunter Water’s prices are periodically reviewed and determined by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART). IPART’s current price determination applies until 30 June 2020 and we will be making a submission to IPART by 30 June 2019 that will help to set prices from 1 July 2020.

    We encourage community members to get involved in the discussion around water pricing by visiting the Your Voice page for our 2019 Price Review at https://yourvoice.hunterwater.com.au/Price-Review-2019

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    The following question was submitted by a community member: "The desal plant is a great idea but what about the on-going costs involved in on-going maintenance & upkeep - the Sydney desal plant struck trouble this year when maintenance hadn't been kept up & the plant was unable to start producing water. Has this issue been addressed?"

    TempDesalAdmin asked over 2 years ago

    The Belmont desalination plant is designed to be temporary in nature, constructed only in a severe drought once a suite of water saving measures have been implemented across the Hunter. 

    Once water storage levels return to an acceptable level the plant would be decommissioned negating the need for on-going maintenance. Some infrastructure could remain on site but the desalination components could be sold off. The timeframe for decommission would depend on water storage modelling at the time.

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    The following questions were submitted by a community member: "I am pleased that Hunter Water is investigating a proposed temporary desalination plant site at Belmont as part of a smart water management plan and I look forward to an update on progress. I wonder what other measures are being planned / implemented for the long term? It is a fact that trees attract rainfall and no one can fail to note that the worst drought affected areas in the Hunter are those that have been denuded of trees. Are there any tree planting projects in existence? Could there be co-operative ventures with local councils?"

    TempDesalAdmin asked over 2 years ago

    One of Hunter Water’s goals is to lead the development of a sustainable and resilient water and wastewater future for the Lower Hunter. A temporary desalination plant at Belmont would only be constructed after a suite of water saving measures are implemented across the Hunter.

    Water conservation projects, including water efficiency, leakage management and recycling projects, are being developed. A Sustainable Wastewater strategy will help define our long-term approach for wastewater system performance, recycled water management and biosolids management.

    Hunter Water is also determining our Economic Level of Water Conservation (ELWC). The ELWC Methodology discussion paper has been released and is available for review and comment.

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    The following suggestion was provided by a community member: "A digital water metre for your shower, so that way it will cut off your water if you are using too much will help it".

    TempDesalAdmin asked over 2 years ago

    Community support is important to Hunter Water. You can join the #LoveWater conversation and share your water saving ideas on the discussion forum.