New water plan checks Hunter's drought risk

SERVICES minister Greg Pearce says he wants a rigorous scientific assessment of supply options and a re-examination of just how susceptible the Lower Hunter is to falling quickly into drought, as part of a work on a new water plan.

Commenting after the inaugural meeting yesterday of an independent expert panel appointed to oversee the development of the new Lower Hunter water plan, Mr Pearce also poured cold water on the idea of a Hunter desalination plant.

But he has also declined again to rule out the consideration of a ‘‘Native Dog Creek’’ dam proposal near the site of the original $477million Tillegra dam project area despite the Coalition’s opposition to the Tillegra dam by name.

Mr Pearce said he and panel members discussed the need for a more ‘‘rigorous and scientific’’ process than the ‘‘flawed’’ approach that led to the Tillegra proposal.

‘‘Clearly there was a lack of trust in it, and so it became a process that really was more about advocacy for a dam than about making a dispassionate study of the options and bringing the community along with those options,’’ he said.

The government would publish all reports produced as part of the new work.

Mr Pearce said he had opposed Sydney’s desalination plant and did not think it suitable for the Hunter.

Mr Pearce said he could not rule out dam proposals near the Tillegra site as ‘We can’t on the one hand say we want a process with integrity that involves scientific assessment and community consultation... and then on the other hand just rule things in and out sort of on a whim’’.

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