IN the wake of the politically poisonous and ultimately unsuccessful proposal to build Tillegra Dam as the solution to the region's water needs, Hunter Water adopted a broad-ranging Lower Hunter Water Strategy.
A decade on, the strategy is under review. Two dam sites, both substantially smaller than Tillegra, are on the table, along with an expansion of the proposed Belmont South desalination plant and a possible second desalinator at Walsh Point on Kooragang Island.
Along with further efforts to improve "water efficiency" by increased recycling and "demand management" (or cutting of water use) domestically and commercially, Hunter Water hopes it can future-proof the region for the foreseeable future.
Interestingly, the water and power industries are both facing similar issues.
A big new dam - a Tillegra II, even - would be an obvious answer to the region's long-term water needs, in the same way that a new coal-fired power station would provide certainty for industrial electricity users.
But the environmental costs in both cases are so high as to effectively rule them out.
Hence Hunter Water's shift towards "supplementing" existing supplies - the water equivalent of a power station upgrade.
In a similar manner, desal plants on the Australian east coast resemble gas "peaking" plants used at times of extreme power demand.
In desert areas such as the Middle East there may be no alternative to desalination.
But we did not need the recent cloudburst to tell us that our water supply - even without climate change - swings between extremes.
Empty dams eventually - and often quickly - fill again, and taxpayers can be left paying expensive desalinator bills even when the plant is sitting idle.
All of these problems, however, are manageable, as part of a measured response to the Hunter's future water needs.
While our population is growing, the increase is modest with what Sydney Water must contend with.
The review of Hunter Water's long-term strategy is timely, but community wariness in the wake of the Tillegra fiasco means the organisation must fulfil its promise to keep people "informed" about the review, and "engaged" in its processes.
Especially as Hunter Water is still a major cash cow for the state government, and especially as Hunter resources are an increasingly important part of the Central Coast's water supply.
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