Hunter Water operates five wastewater treatment plants (WWTWs) with licence to discharge into the Hunter River Estuary (HRE) and its tributaries (Kurri Kurri, Farley, Morpeth, Raymond Terrace and Shortland WWTWs). Hunter Water predicted an estimated capital investment of >$300 million dollars would be required over the next 30 years to meet the projected increase in population and sewage load at those plants.
Hunter H2O, alongside a wider project team including Clint Cantrell, has been engaged by Hunter Water to develop a long-term strategic master plan for the management of effluent discharges in the HRE catchment which will set the foundation for wastewater investment on the Lower Hunter for the next 30 years. To inform this work, Hunter Water previously invested in the development of a catchment water quality model.
The Hunter H2O team understood that successful delivery of this project would require careful thinking beyond just the upgrading of the assets to meet regulatory requirements. Based on this understanding, Hunter H2O integrated effects-based assessment (EBA) throughout the project.
The EBA approach has evolved over the last decade to become international best practice. It is believed that incorporating EBA throughout the project is the best way to enable the development of a strategic, adaptive and sufficiently flexible masterplan that can provide near and long-term resilience in delivering agreed community waterway outcomes. This approach is in contrast to the traditional wastewater treatment master plan approach that is developed solely on the basis of an isolated view of prescriptive end of pipe water quality constraints/limits, which are often not considered within the wider context of targeted waterway outcomes and the relative effects of all sources on the achievement of those outcomes.
To date we have undertaken the following in the development of the wastewater masterplan:
- Development of a project roadmap incorporating project objectives and ensuring each of Hunter Water’s key aspects of the project would be met by the proposed methodology
- Development of a stakeholder engagement plan and stakeholder implementation plan to identify key community and regulatory stakeholders, analyse existing stakeholder information, establish gaps and understand stakeholder values, and develop a stakeholder engagement strategy to support and enable the project
- Assisting with the submission of Hunter Water’s Pollution Reduction Program report to the EPA, which included a summary of early work undertaken for the project
- Collaboration with Hunter Water to determine a set of long-term strategic objectives for the project based on international best practice, and future trends and opportunities
- Review of Hunter Water’s information (including the WWTWs’ capability, constraints, performance, and current infrastructure upgrade pathway) to develop a holistic understanding of the current system in order to develop the problem definition
- Development of decision-making approach and framework based on economic principles and effects-based assessment
- Generation, development and assessment of a range of potential strategy options. Options under consideration include major treatment upgrades, wastewater system reconfigurations, effluent discharge relocation, inflow/infiltration reduction, recycled water opportunities and catchment offsets
- Exploration and discussion (ongoing) with the relevant authorities of alternative regulatory frameworks based on the EBA approach, including nutrient load trading, nutrient load offsetting through catchment activities, bubble licencing, and consideration of alternative licence water quality parameters/limits that better align with risks to environmental and community values.
Some of the key features of this important regional project are:
- The project is not only looking at infrastructure solutions but new regulatory approaches and catchment improvement.
- The team has utilised adaptive planning approaches in developing the preferred portfolio of solutions.
- Provides the necessary infrastructure to achieve the best possible outcomes in terms of sustainably managing future loads, against the wider context of all pollution sources, and ensuring loads from the wastewater treatment works do not inhibit achieving agreed waterway and ecological health outcomes.
- Ensures that the investment in infrastructure and other initiatives is aligned to Hunter Water’s climate adaption strategy and provides the necessary resilience to adapt to climate change.
- The team has developed the right solution based on application of an Effects Based Assessment Approach that ensures a focus on achieving agreed outcomes for the estuary across the spectrum of ecology, aesthetics, recreational use and other targeted uses. Further, that the Effects Based Methodology enables a longer-term adaptive approach to achieve these outcomes – with sufficient flexibility to manage uncertainties of the future state of key variables.
- The plan recognises the importance of sustainable urban water management in the Lower Hunter and how this contributes to a sustainable and growing region. The Master Plan particularly supports the various Council Local Environmental Plans (LEP’s) for sustainable growth.
- It has involved extensive community and stakeholder engagement led by our partner Mara (who are our partner also on this panel) to meet community’s existing and future needs including using the innovative Social Pinpoint platform to collect an understanding of how the community uses the Lower Hunter Estuary for recreation.