Desalination plant plan for Belmont

A DESALINATION plant would be built at Belmont as part of an ‘on the shelf’ insurance policy proposed by Hunter Water in case unprecedented drought were to hit the region.

Hunter Water was obtaining planning approvals for the temporary desalination plant, to be constructed if water storage levels dropped to 35 per cent, the utility said. The plant would be decommissioned when storage levels rose about 50 per cent.

Temporary desalination was the last resort in a suite of drought responses for the Hunter included in the NSW government’s Lower Hunter Water Plan. The plant would be built on Hunter Water land at Belmont.

Part of being ‘drought ready’ meant having approvals in place for the worst case scenarios, Hunter Water chief investment officer Darren Cleary said. “The Lower Hunter Water Plan is a 20-year water security blueprint for the Hunter which determined that while our water storages are sufficient for now, we need to be prepared for extreme drought conditions,” Mr Cleary said. “Having planning approvals on the shelf and ready to go for a temporary desalination plant is an insurance policy in the event a catastrophic drought hit the Hunter.”

He said construction of the plant would only come after “every other possible water saving measure”, including increased recycling, stormwater harvesting and stringent water restrictions, had been exhausted.

“Although the odds of switching on the plant are in the order of 10,000 to one, we won’t take the chance of running out of water because our planning approvals were not in place,” he said.

“Gaining approvals now means we’re ready for worst.”

Hunter Water managing director Jim Bentley said the temporary desalination plant was an emergency measure rather than part of Hunter Water’s long term water resource planning.

“While water demand in the Hunter went down over the last 30 years due to reduced industrial use and water wise behaviours, we’re at the point with our growing population where if we keep going as we are, we’ll need a new water source in 20 years’ time,” Mr Bentley said.

“Hunter Water is working to delay the need for the next water source by saving water in our own network.” 

The preliminary environmental assessment for the temporary desalination plant is on public exhibition at the Department of Planning’s major projects website. Hunter Water will commence community consultation in early 2018.