Planning our water future

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We are planning now to ensure our region has a secure and adaptable water system, now and for future generations.

The Lower Hunter Water Security Plan is a whole-of-government approach to ensuring the region has a resilient and sustainable water future that contributes to regional health and prosperity and is supported by the community.

Water is essential for communities across the Lower Hunter to flourish. It nurtures our natural environment, keeps our households and businesses running, contributes to green and cool spaces in our cities and towns and keeps our industries operating and our regional economies thriving. Water is deeply entwined with the spiritual, cultural, social and economic wellbeing of Aboriginal communities across the Lower Hunter region.

For the last three years we have talked to our community and customers about their values and preferences for our water future, have looked at the data on our changing climate and the expected growth in the region, and we have analysed a range of demand and supply options to reduce the amount of drinking water we use and to supplement our water supplies. We also learnt from our experiences in the recent drought about what we need to do to make sure we are prepared in the future.

Draft Lower Hunter Water Security Plan

Our draft plan was on public exhibition during August and September 2021 for community feedback. Thank you to everyone who provided a submission. We are reviewing all feedback received and working with the NSW Government to finalise the plan. The final plan will be sent to NSW Cabinet for consideration in early 2022.

Read the draft plan here. There are also supporting documents in the Document Library including summary documents, fact sheets and FAQs for you to review.

Online Community Webinar

We held an online webinar on Tuesday 24 August from 2-3:30 pm to adhere to Covid safe requirements. The webinar gave participants an understanding of the context for the plan and an overview of the key priorities and actions. If you could not attend at the nominated time, a recording of the webinar is available here.

Feedback from public exhibition

A full description of all the feedback we received during the public exhibition period is available here. A summary of these submissions is available here. These documents are also available in the document library.


We are planning now to ensure our region has a secure and adaptable water system, now and for future generations.

The Lower Hunter Water Security Plan is a whole-of-government approach to ensuring the region has a resilient and sustainable water future that contributes to regional health and prosperity and is supported by the community.

Water is essential for communities across the Lower Hunter to flourish. It nurtures our natural environment, keeps our households and businesses running, contributes to green and cool spaces in our cities and towns and keeps our industries operating and our regional economies thriving. Water is deeply entwined with the spiritual, cultural, social and economic wellbeing of Aboriginal communities across the Lower Hunter region.

For the last three years we have talked to our community and customers about their values and preferences for our water future, have looked at the data on our changing climate and the expected growth in the region, and we have analysed a range of demand and supply options to reduce the amount of drinking water we use and to supplement our water supplies. We also learnt from our experiences in the recent drought about what we need to do to make sure we are prepared in the future.

Draft Lower Hunter Water Security Plan

Our draft plan was on public exhibition during August and September 2021 for community feedback. Thank you to everyone who provided a submission. We are reviewing all feedback received and working with the NSW Government to finalise the plan. The final plan will be sent to NSW Cabinet for consideration in early 2022.

Read the draft plan here. There are also supporting documents in the Document Library including summary documents, fact sheets and FAQs for you to review.

Online Community Webinar

We held an online webinar on Tuesday 24 August from 2-3:30 pm to adhere to Covid safe requirements. The webinar gave participants an understanding of the context for the plan and an overview of the key priorities and actions. If you could not attend at the nominated time, a recording of the webinar is available here.

Feedback from public exhibition

A full description of all the feedback we received during the public exhibition period is available here. A summary of these submissions is available here. These documents are also available in the document library.

  • Water Pressure: The Lower Hunter is now viewed as a piece of an inter-connected water management puzzle (Newcastle Herald, 27 July 2019))

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    Water Pressure: The Lower Hunter is now viewed as a piece of an inter-connected water management puzzle

    Article by Matthew Kelly

    Cracking up: An intrepid party alights from a boat at Chichester Dam in the 1960s.

    Cracking up: An intrepid party alights from a boat at Chichester Dam in the 1960s.

    It's been a decade of seismic shifts in attitudes and approaches to water security in the Hunter and beyond.

    As the impact of drought worsens, the Lower Hunter, Upper Hunter, Central Coast and Mid-North Coast are increasingly viewed as pieces of an inter-connected water management puzzle.

    The decade began with government water authorities arguing that the proposed Tillegra Dam near Dungog was the silver bullet needed to drought-proof the Lower Hunter.

    The $477 million piece of infrastructure, which first appeared on water planning strategies in the 1960s, was designed to hold enough water to secure the region's water supply for decades to come.

    Former Labor premier Morris Iemma spectacularly announced the government was proceeding with the project in mid-2006, a move that many believe was designed to deflect attention away from the arrest of disgraced former Swansea MP Milton Orkopulous on child sex charges earlier that week.

    The proposal to build the 450 billion litre dam would polarise the Hunter community like few other issues over the next five years.

    Hunter Water prosecuted the argument that the dam would future-proof the region's water supply from the impact of climate change and population growth.

    But the opponents, which came from a wide cross-section of the community and academia, waged an effective grassroots campaign that showed the dam was not necessary and would instead result in unprecedented environmental damage to the Patterson and Williams rivers and surrounding ecosystems.

    On the eve of the March 2011 state election the Keneallygovernment announced it was scrapping the dam and would proceed with an alternative strategy for securing the region's water supply based on the principles of water conservation and recycling.

    Launched in 2014, the plan also placed an emphasis on responding to the impact of drought and climate change.

    "Historical rainfall records are no longer a good predictor of what the future might hold," Professor of sustainability at the University of Technology's Institute for Sustainable Futures Cynthia Mitchell said.

    "Our historical rainfall records are no longer a good predictor of what the future might hold,"

    Professor Cynthia Mitchell, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology.

    "The plan was saying what happens in the worst of all imaginable situations? It demonstrates is a degree of readiness when the rest of the country was trying to deal with the millennium drought."

    Within a year of being launched the plan had saved more than five billion litres of water-the equivalent of 2000 Olympic-sized swimming pools- through initiatives including a campaign to replace thousands of household shower heads and by working with the top one per cent of customers to identify ways to reduce their water use.

    Former Hunter Water chief executive Jim Bentley, who was recently appointed as the state's top waterbureaucrat, said the plan, while useful, was not a magic solution to achieving water security.

    "I think it has done some good. It has helped the various agencies better coordinate on water security and resilience, that's a good thing," Dr Bentley said.

    But, if, like me, you believe one of the fundamental keys to this [achieving water security] is the community valuing water in a different way I don't think the document, as written has helped that in any great way.

    "There's nothing wrong with the document but what it says is once you have written a document you can't put it on the shelf and bring it out at strategy days. It's a guide to the conversation that Hunter Water has with the communities it serves."

    The most recent population growth predictions for the Hunter region show water consumption will return to the levels they were at in the early 2000s by 2038.

    Big wet: A sight that many in the Hunter would love to see - the Grahamstown Dam's spillway overflowing in 2015.

    Big wet: A sight that many in the Hunter would love to see - the Grahamstown Dam's spillway overflowing in 2015.

    The issue of a new permanent water supply is not due to be revisited until about 2025. This date could be pushed back further again with improved inter-regional connectivity, increased water efficiency and enhanced technologies.

    One of these initiatives is Hunter Water's leak reduction program, which has reduced leakage across its network by about 20 per cent in recent years.

    "It's a fantastic result but we have got further to go. And we also need to look on the supply side. We will have to invest in some new infrastructure as well," Dr Bentley said.

    "The planning we're doing together with our colleagues and with the community is leading to a more portfolio approach for the next version of the Lower Hunter Water plan."

    Dr Steven Lucas from the University of Newcastle's school of environmental sciences said the Lower Hunter Water Plan represented a major step forward in water management. It's strengths were its emphasis on community consultation and the formation of an independent panel to oversee the plan

    "The key changes have been the creation of the water panel to get the Lower Hunter Water Plan up and running, so the community consultation side was much improved. It allowed things to be much more transparent in the way we are managing our water. Also the way the Hunter Water Corportation has related to the community in their processes, advertising and reporting. I think it has made that much better as well."

    The past decade has also seen a greater emphasis on improving connectivity between the Lower Hunter, Upper Hunter, Central Coast and Mid-Coast regions.

    The Greater Hunter Region Water Strategy, released in November 2018, aims to improve the management of water which is presently managed by through seven water-sharing plans, three major water utilities and numerous licence categories.

    Former water minister Niall Blair noted at the strategy's launch that the in the past 20 years the Greater Hunter Region had quadrupled its output of coal, experienced the deregulation of the power and dairy industries, and suffered a major drought that exposed significant water and energy security risks.

    At the heart of the strategy is a $4.3 million grant to investigate the viability of a two-way pipeline between Lostock Dam and Glennies Creek Dam and a potable water pipeline from Hunter Water's network to Singleton.

    The proposed Upper Hunter pipeline projects would build on the 31-kilometre pipeline that was built between the Hunter and Central Coast in 2006 when water reserves on the Central Coast dropped to 10 per cent.

  • Residents would pay more to save | Newcastle Herald (Jul 23, 2019 )

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  • Summary of the Community Deliberative Forums - Phase 2

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  • Water supply and demand options we're considering

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    Water supply options we're considering include:

    • Dams
    • Desalination – removing salt and minerals from salty water like seawater to make fresh water.
    • Groundwater - underground sources of water
    • Water sharing – using pipelines to move water from one area to another

    Water demand options we're considering include:

  • Snapshot of Phase 1 Deliberative Forums, 2018

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  • How we're working with community and stakeholders to develop the Lower Hunter Water Plan

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  • Community Deliberative Forums helping to shape our regions future

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    Thank you to the 160 people from a cross section of our region who participated in the recent Deliberative Forums, held on 25 and 26 June in Newcastle and Maitland.

    The outcomes of these deliberative forums will play a key role in helping shape our decision making. Through a series of exercises and discussions, we sought to understand our community's preferences and attitudes to seven options types including conservation, recycling, dams and desalination options.

    Following the forums, we'll build on the feedback we receive to develop specific schemes and proposals. We'll continue to work and engage with our community throughout the entire review process. A summary of the outcomes from the forums will be available shortly.

    We are working with our community and the NSW Government to plan for the region's long term future, with a review of the Lower Hunter Water Plan now underway.

  • Community workshops in Lower Hunter Water plan review

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    Hunter Water is working together with its community and the NSW Government to plan for the region’s long term future, with a review of the Lower Hunter Water Plan underway.

    Hunter Water is updating the Plan, alongside the NSW Government’s water team and Central Coast Council, to ensure there is a sustainable supply of water in the long term, as well as during times of drought.

    Two workshop-style deliberative forums will be held in Newcastle tonight and Maitland tomorrow night, with invitations extended to 160 people from a cross-section of the Lower Hunter community. The forums aim to understand their values and attitudes to different supply and demand option types to inform our water planning decisions.

    Hunter Water Managing Director Jim Bentley said it’s important that as a community we manage our precious resource well and protect it for future generations.

    “In a time when most of NSW is in drought, we need to be vigilant about how we’re using water and how we’re conserving it. With our storages at a 13-year low and the potential for water restrictions in the coming months, we must use and manage this precious resource wisely, both now and in the future.
    “We’re reviewing the Lower Hunter Water Plan to ensure we meet our region’s long term water supply needs and so that we’re prepared to respond to drought. We don’t know what the future holds, which is why we’re planning now and working with our community so that we can understand what our options are.
    “This week’s deliberative forums will play a key role in helping shape our decision making. Through a series of exercises and discussions, we want to understand our community’s preferences and attitudes to seven options types including conservation, recycling, dams and desalination options.

    “Following the forums, we’ll build on the feedback we receive to develop specific schemes and proposals. We’ll continue to work and engage with our community throughout the entire review process.
    “It’s really important to Hunter Water that we develop our plans for the future with the community that we serve. It’s also important we’re bringing our expertise together with the values of our community so that we develop a future that meets their expectations and aspirations,” said Mr Bentley.

    Member for Upper Hunter Michael Johnsen said the Lower Hunter Water Plan is a whole-of-government initiative that would ensure the sustainable supply of water for the region.

    “Water is critical to life. Not only is it essential that the Lower Hunter has a safe and secure water supply for years to come, but it’s vital we protect this resource for the community’s health, wellbeing and liveability,” Mr Johnsen said.

    “The Lower Hunter Water Plan confirms Hunter Water’s and the Nationals in Government’s commitment to sustainable long term water management in the region. We’ll be working closely together throughout the review process, before the new Plan is released in 2021.”

  • Learning with our peers

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    Hunter Water recently hosted the Water Services Association of Australia Adaptive Planning and Integrated Water Management Network meeting, attended by industry experts from across Australia.

    Participants gathered in Newcastle to exchange information and ideas about adaptive planning, integrated water management, climate variability and long-term water planning.

    Hunter Water’s Program Director for Water Resilience Emma Berry said the meeting was an opportunity to share best practice with our industry peers.

    “Members came together to challenge existing thinking and learn from the experiences of others as we plan our water future together.”

    Presenters included experts from the University of Newcastle, Monash University, Melbourne Water, Water Corporation, SA Water and Hunter Water.

  • Hunter Water team joins industry leaders

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    In early May 2019, Hunter Water staff joined leaders of the water industry at the annual Ozwater conference. Held in Melbourne, Ozwater is an international water conference and trade exhibition hosted by the Australian Water Association. It attracts the best and the brightest from our industry including presentations from our 13 staff.

    Managing Director Jim Bentley said the event showcased the talented staff at Hunter Water as well as the diversity of the industry.

    “We have expert staff across a range of disciplines – from water management and wastewater reuse through to strategic planning and customer experience – and Ozwater is a great opportunity to share our knowledge with our peers.”

    Summary of participation

    Jim Bentley, Managing Director, participated in a panel discussion on 'Water for Growth' where they looked at what institutional, regulatory, planning and pricing arrangements were needed for the future to deliver liveable and resilient communities.
    Anna Lundmark, Manager Science and Innovation, presented on 'Toolkit for an Innovation Journey' in the Innovation Culture stream, and participated in the panel session 'Microplastics – Megaproblem?' where she presented on microplastics in wastewater and current research gaps.
    Emma Turner, Senior Economist, and Jeremy Cheesman from Marsden Jacob Associates presented their paper on 'Demonstrating customer willingness to pay for discretionary environmental and livability services'.
    David Derkenne, Manager Sustainability and Risk, participated in the panel discussion on 'Climate Change Mitigation – Making a difference' where he presented on a centralised biosolids approach with energy recovery for medium sized communities.
    Margaret Balandin, Environmental Planning, and Daniel Livingston, Team Leader Wastewater Treatment Planning, presented their paper on 'Beyond compliance: When treated effluent quality is within licence limits yet causes materials environmental harm'.
    Stephen Askew, Water Management Engineer, and Adam Jones from BMT presented their paper on 'Water Efficiency – a long term partnership'.
    John Stanmore, Manager Water Planning, presented his paper 'Talking dirty (water) – a journey towards improved discoloured water performance in the Lower Hunter'.
    Nicholas Bates, Water Resource Planning Engineer, presented his paper 'An innovative groundwater investigation of the Hunter River Paleovalley'.
    Geoffrey Maeder, Team Leader - System Control, presented on 'Hunter Water’s experience with Robotic Reservoir Cleaning with Watertight Robotics'.
    Abigail Morrow, Water Quality Scientist, presented her paper 'Thermophilic amoeba – are we in hot water?'.
    Jane Blakeney (pictured), Team Leader Customer & Community Advocacy, presented her paper on 'Learning to love water with our community'.
    Doug Lucas, Acting Manager Customer Experience, and Paul van Veenendaal from CSBA presented their paper 'A learning journey: harnessing consumer insights and customer benchmarking capability to drive community engagement'.

    Well done to all of you for sharing best practice with the water community, it is a great example of thought leadership.

Page last updated: 23 December 2021, 10:39