Situated on one of the most picturesque parts of Newcastle's coastline, Burwood Beach wastewater treatment plant was established in 1936 to hygienically dispose of sewage from the rapidly expanding city.
Although primitive by today's standards, the plant represented a major upgrade of the Merewether outfall that was closed several years earlier following a public protest.
Gradual improvements over the decades have resulted in the plant evolving into one of Australia's most advanced treatment facilities. Today it treats wastewater generated by about 190,000 people from an area that stretches from Dudley to Wallsend.
Other Lower Hunter treatment plants operate at Belmont, Boulder Bay, Branxton, Cessnock, Clarence Town, Dora Creek, Dungog, Edgeworth, Farley, Karuah, Kearsley, Kurri Kurri, Morpeth, Paxton and Raymond Terrace.
The plants treat wastewater using a combination of mechanical, chemical and biological processes before it is reused or discharged to rivers or oceans under licence conditions set by the state government.
Hunter Water's chief investment officer Darren Cleary said improvements in technology over the past 30 years meant that most nutrients were now removed resulting in minimal impact on the environment.
"We are protecting our waterways and putting in processes to effectively disinfect the effluent that is generated which means we are protecting recreational waters and anyone that is using those recreational waters whether it be swimming at the beach or going through a creek. We ensure that is safe by disinfecting the wastewater prior to its release," he said.
About 10 per cent of treated effluent is recycled for use by a variety of municipal, industrial and agricultural users including industry on Kooragang Island, Kurri Tafe's trotting track, Eraring power station, native tree plantations at Paxton and Branxton.
Mr Cleary said Hunter Water was investigating new options for wastewater recycling.
"That treatment technology is a key consideration for what we can achieve for water recycling, which is one of the options we actively consider and promote as part of a broader suite of options for meeting our water needs," he said.
"Technology isn't the constraint for water recycling, we know we can do it and we know we can do it safely. The issue is about how we can do it cost effectively and how recycling options stack up against other options for saving water."
About 45 megalitres, the equivalent of 18 Olympic swimming pools, of treated effluent is discharged from the Burwood wastewater treatment plant via a 1.5 kilometre ocean outfall on an average day.
A $27 million ultraviolet disinfection system was installed at the plant in 2016 to provide a higher level of treatment before its discharge.
Data from the state government's Beach Watch program shows Bar Beach, Merewether, Burwood and Dudley beach are consistently rated as having good to very good water quality.
Planning is underway to keep the plant operating until 2040.
"There are plans but at the moment they are predominantly driven by growth. If growth continues to occur then we will need to upgrade this facility at the moment in 10-15 years time. We are always upgrading components of the plant to ensure it is operating reliability," Mr Cleary said.
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