The state government has made it clear the ill-fated Tillegra Dam is dead and buried, but a significant proportion of Lower Hunter residents still think constructing a new dam to secure the region's water supply is at least worth considering.
Almost 70 per cent of participants at two recent Hunter Water forums on water security options indicated the state government corporation should consider dams or said they were open to the idea of a new dam as a solution to declining drinking water supplies.
Level one Lower Hunter water restrictions start next week in response to the region's combined storages dropping to a 25-year low.
The former Labor government spectacularly abandoned advanced plans to build the $477 million 450 gigalitre dam Tillegra Dam near Dungog shortly before the 2011 state election.
The Lower Hunter Water Plan, which places an emphasis on conservation and recycling, has since become the key water planning document for the region.
The Newcastle Herald reported in July that a small group of residents with the backing of One Nation are agitating to revive the Tillegra Dam project, however, the government has steadfastly refused to reconsider revisit it.
While the 153 Lower Hunter Water Plan review forum participants indicated new dams were worth considering, they displayed a stronger preference for stormwater harvesting, recycled water and water sharing projects as a solution to the region's water security puzzle.
A Hunter Water spokeswoman said the review of the Lower Hunter Water Plan was designed to reflect the changing community attitudes and values.
"We welcome all of the feedback received at our second round of deliberative forums in June on various water supply and demand option types. This feedback will inform our decision-making going forward," she said.
"All options are actively being considered to ensure there is a sustainable supply of water in the long term, with the review also taking into consideration the technical feasibility, potential environmental and social aspects of the options."
She said Hunter Water was committed to ongoing community engagement.
Professor of civil and environmental engineering at The University of NSW Stuart Khan, who is an advocate for innovative water recycling projects, said it made sense to allow participants to consider the merits and costs of each option.
"Dams have been extremely valuable for water supply management over the last century and I think it would be strange to suddenly turn around and not even consider them...," he said.
"I think it's likely that, after carefully considering opportunities for new dams, Hunter Water might determine that there are some more attractive options in terms of criteria such as costs, time to deliver, water supply reliability and environmental impact."
However, Dr Khan said he was disappointed that detailed quantitative assessment of views on recycling were only canvassed for non-potable reuse, not as an option for topping-up drinking water supplies.
"This seems like a huge missed opportunity to better understand community views around drinking recycled water. It is already very well known that the community, as a whole, is highly supportive of reusing recycled water for non-drinking water purposes, so there are no surprises there," he said.
"It comes across as if the possibility of recycled water for drinking is not being seriously considered as a future supply-side water management option in the Hunter. I think that's disappointing and leaving such options completely off the table short-changes the community. The best outcomes can be determined when all options are on the table."
Hunter Water is calling on Lower Hunter residents to use four buckets of water less a day as water restrictions take effect.
"Saving four buckets of water is all it takes to make a difference," Hunter Water's executive drought lead Darren Cleary said.
"While Level one water restrictions will focus on reducing outdoor water use from next Monday, there are plenty of simple and easy things we can do every day that will save our precious resource.
Hunter Water customers use approximately 190 litres of water per person each day, which is about 10 to 20 per cent more when compared to other areas like the Central Coast, Melbourne and south east Queensland.
"One of the easiest ways to save water is by reducing showers to four minutes," Mr Cleary said.
While you're with us, did you know Newcastle Herald offers breaking news alerts, daily email newsletters and more? Keep up to date with all the local news - sign up here.
IN NEWS TODAY:
- Man accused of causing crash that killed girl, 9, at New Lambton Heights in court
- Devora Howard: Autopsy finds drowning as cause of death
- Former Hightrade boss extradited to face tax charges linked to a Hunter resort development
- Upper Hunter air quality monitoring network issues unprecedented alerts for poor air quality
- Aged care a sentence for 21-year-old Hunter man James Nutt
- Taco Bell lodges development application for an outlet in the Hunter, one of two in NSW