Snapshot of what we heard in the deliberative forums

We’re learning with our community and our regional partners to explore new and innovative ways to how we use water and plan for our water future together.

In late 2018, we hosted two deliberative forums with our community to talk about water and what’s important to them in long-term water planning. Provision of good quality clean water was identified as the most important value to the community, followed by reliability of water supply, environmental sustainability, affordability, future proofing, education and transparency. 

Using these values, we developed a list of considerations or characteristics against which each of the options we’re considering as part of the Lower Hunter Water Plan can be reviewed. Given Hunter Water is absolutely committed to meeting the highest standards of water quality and providing transparency and education across all demand and supply options, and decision-making more broadly, we removed these as considerations as they wouldn’t differentiate between the option types. We also added in social impact as a key consideration given each of the option types have different potential impacts on the community. 

We tested the importance of these considerations in a second phase of community deliberative forums held in June 2019. Here, forum participants rated reliability of water supply as the most important consideration when assessing option types, followed by environmental impact, social impact and cost to operate and build. 

Forum participants were provided with information about the water demand and supply option types being considered as part of the Lower Hunter Water Plan review and given the opportunity to explore the positive and negative aspects of each, including how they perform in terms of reliability, environmental impact, social impact and cost. 

Overall, options to decrease demand and reliance on drinking water performed more favourably than options to supplement water supplies. The majority of participants at the forums were open to Hunter Water considering recycled water, stormwater harvesting, water conservation, water sharing and dams as options to secure our water future. Community openness to groundwater and desalination was lower in comparison, driven by concerns about the environmental impact of these options. The majority of participants also expressed a strong preference for investing more up-front to reduce the risk of needing to build emergency desalination.

What is the Lower Hunter Water Plan?

The current Lower Hunter Water Plan (LHWP) sets out how we will all ensure there is enough water to supply homes, business and industry in the region, as well as how we will respond to drought. It also includes actions to supply, save and substitute water that are already in place or underway, as well as additional measures to respond to droughts when they occur.

The first LHWP was developed in 2014 by the NSW Government, in collaboration with Hunter Water and with input from other stakeholders and our community.

The LHWP focused on how we would respond to a drought and includes a range of actions we will implement as our storages fall. We are responsible for implementing many of the actions in the plan.

The plan was intended to be reviewed regularly to ensure appropriate investments are being made and the Lower Hunter region’s water needs are being met.

Here's a summary of what's involved in developing the new Lower Hunter Water Plan. 

Why do we need to review the plan?

We are currently working with our government partners, key stakeholders and community to review the LHWP to ensure it remains adaptable and reflects our changing community values and priorities.

This new long-term plan will help us to better adapt to future uncertainties, such as population growth and climate variability, as well as take advantage of opportunities like advances in technology.

The new LHWP will consider a range of options for both supply (where we get water from) and demand (how we use the water we have) to ensure we have a sustainable and reliable supply of water, now and for the future. 

The new LHWP is expected to be released in 2021.


What is a deliberative forum?

A deliberative forum is a large workshop-style session where a cross section of the community comes together to learn complex information and use this information to provide feedback to decision-makers.

What is the purpose of these deliberative forums?

Understanding our community values, attitudes and preferences is fundamental to our long-term water planning. In late 2018, we hosted two deliberative forums with our community to talk about water and what’s important to them in long-term water planning.

The deliberative forum is a large workshop-style session where a cross section of the community comes together to learn complex information and use this information to provide feedback to decision-makers.

Participants are selected randomly and form a representative sample of the population in the Lower Hunter. They are engaged through several exercises, including table discussions, keypad voting and presentations, which provide a lively and meaningful conversation from which all of us can learn.

The purpose of the second round of deliberative forums in June 2019 was to start talking with our community about their preferences and perceptions of different water supply and demand option types.

We’ll use the feedback we receive at the forums and broader community engagement activities to make sure community values and preferences are reflected in our water planning decisions.

The forums are being held to understand the community’s views on water issues relevant to the future of our region, give participants a deeper understanding of water topics, and provide a good mix of quantitative and qualitative information to our teams.

Participants are selected randomly and form a representative sample of the population in the Lower Hunter. They are engaged through several exercises, including table discussions, keypad voting, presentations and even pub quizzes – all designed to have a lively and meaningful conversation from which all of us can learn.

Why are you sharing this information about different options types with the community?

We’re committed to learning with our community and engaging them in the decision-making process. We want our stakeholders and community to be well informed so they can better understand the available water supply and demand option types we are considering as part of the new LHWP. We also want to ensure these options are aligned with our community’s values, attitudes and perceptions.

We need to share information about these option types with the community so we can work together to develop feasible ‘portfolios’ of options that will ensure a sustainable and reliable supply of water now and into the future.

We aim to provide services that are supported by our community to promote everyone’s health and wellbeing.

What is the next step for the LHWP review?

A lot of work goes into developing a new LHWP. Right now we’re focused on:

  • Learning from the community about what’s important to them so we can reflect our community values in our long-term water planning.
  • Understanding future challenges and opportunities so we can be better prepared to respond to an uncertain future.
  • Making sure we have a robust plan in place to respond to drought.
  • Understanding all feasible options and their potential role in our long-term plan.
  • Understanding community attitudes on the type of options we are considering and reflecting community preferences in our decisions.

The next step is to:

  • Undertake investigations and studies to ensure we understand the feasibility, cost, impacts and benefits of the options to allow an objective comparison of options.
  • Develop ‘portfolios’ of options and assess these against future states.
  • Talk with our community about these portfolios.

A lot of work needs to happen before the new LHWP is released in 2021.

Will you be looking at Tillegra Dam as an option?

We are not considering Tillegra Dam as part of the revised Lower Hunter Water Plan. 

We’ve undertaken a transparent, robust review of a range of potential supply and demand option types to ensure the water security for the region. While a range of other options are being actively investigated the Tillegra proposal will not be reconsidered as an option. 

This is consistent with NSW Government policy on this proposal.


How can I get involved?

There will be further opportunities to get involved in the second half of 2019, following the deliberative forums. We’ll be delivering a region-wide community engagement program to build on what we’ve heard in the forums.

What is a supply option?

A supply option is one where we can get more drinking water. Generally, when we talk about supply options we are referring to:

·  Surface water - dams and rivers

·  Ground water - underground sources of water

·  Water sharing – using pipelines to move water from one area to another

·  Desalination – removing salt and minerals from salty water like seawater to make fresh water

What is a demand option?

A demand option is one where we reduce the amount of drinking water we use. This usually means:

·  Water conservation

·  Stormwater harvesting

·  Recycling water

What is potable water?

This is drinking water.

What is non-potable water?

This is water that can be used for purposes other than drinking such as irrigation or industrial uses.

What have you done so far to secure water for the future?

Our Water Resilience programme is engaging with our regional partners and our community to seek new ways of saving water, keeping our options open for future source planning.

Since June 2017, we have assisted our customers in saving more than 117 million litres through fixing leaks at their properties. We have relined Black Hill Reservoir to reduce leakage, saving 215 million litres of water per year. We have also inspected nearly half of our 5,000-kilometre network for leaks and in the process have reduced water loss by 800 million litres, which is the equivalent of 320 Olympic sized swimming pools.

All this is not enough, though, and we need the support of the community to do more.