Hunter scoping study

What is the Hunter River Estuary?

The Hunter Estuary includes all tidal waters of the Hunter River and its tributaries. This includes the banks and beds of the waterway from the Port of Newcastle to the tidal limits at Seaham Weir (on the Williams River), Gostwyck (on the Paterson River) and Oakhampton (on the main Hunter River).

The Hunter River Estuary is home to:

  • A vast range of land tenures and management priorities from conservation to industry
  • A Ramsar listed wetland of international significance
  • The largest coal export port in Australia being of local and national economic significance
  • A range of commercial activities including tourism, commercial and recreational fishing

For more information on the background of the study area, refer to the City of Newcastle website at:


Hunter Valley hydrodynamic platform and model(s) project

Various hydrodynamic modelling studies have previously been undertaken for the Hunter Estuary. In many cases these projects repeat (versus build upon) the work of previous studies and the project outcomes are isolated. The aim of this project is to provide a coordinated whole-of-government modelling approach for the Hunter Valley (including the estuary). The approach will use the best available data, produce consistent results, reduce uncertainty and be available for use by regulators, proponents and decision-makers.

It is proposed that the development of the Hunter Valley Hydrodynamic Platform and Model(s) will be undertaken in 3 Stages. Stage 1 of the development of the model will consist of the preparation of the scoping study. This scoping study aims to collate the available information, determine the needs of the estuary stakeholders and ensure that future modelling builds upon previous efforts. If done effectively, with transparent governance and active stakeholder engagement, significant scientific and cost-savings benefits will result.

Why undertake the project?

  • An innovative and important project to examine the future of data sharing and computer modelling of the Hunter River Estuary
  • To ensure all stakeholders are consulted, information sharing workshops are being held
  • The outcomes from the workshops will help determine future involvement and consultation

Who is working on it?

The Water Research Laboratory (WRL) has teamed up with the City of Newcastle Council (Council), NSW Office of Premier and Cabinet and NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH).

The success of the project is reliant on strong communication between WRL, the Project Team (Council and OEH) and key stakeholders.

What are the expected outcomes?

  • Identify the modelling needs of key stakeholders
  • Undertake a review of existing data and models for the Hunter Valley and identify any data gaps
  • Recommend the types of platforms and model packages that could be used
  • Identify appropriate governance arrangements for the model including custodianship and options for access and maintenance of the model
  • Provide recommendations on the future staging, timeframes and costs for the development of the model

What is the project timeframe?

The project has now commenced and a draft report outlining the recommendations from this study is expected to be delivered in early 2014.

Where is the project up to?

To date the Project Team have conducted:

  • A project inception meeting held on Thursday 5 September 2013 to discuss project planning and objectives, including the stakeholder engagement process
  • The first stakeholder engagement workshop is currently planned for the Wallsend Library Meeting Room on Wednesday 30 October 2013 between 10:00 AM and 12:00 PM. Light refreshments will be provided

What to expect at the first workshop?

The first workshop will provide stakeholders information on estuary processes to be considered and modelling options for discussion as well as outline requirements and available datasets. During the initial workshop, stakeholders will be given a survey with questions to complete. The questions will focus on modelling needs, estuarine interactions and data requirements.

What is a hydrodynamic model?

In a broad sense, the modelling process starts with a “bucket of water” (i). Site features are then incorporated into the model domain including site topography, channel network systems and backswamp areas. Field measurement and monitoring techniques (ii) are used to provide information on how the site functions including hydrodynamic processes and to validate the model.

Irrespective of its size and complexity, a model is simply a tool that incorporates site characteristics and field data into a mathematical approximation of reality. This is achieved by dividing the study area into discrete pieces (or grid cells) and applying mathematical equations within each grid cell to simulate the real system (iii). Once a model has been developed and validated it can be used as a predictive tool to test “what if” scenarios in a range of applications.


(i) The model starts as an empty bucket of water

(ii) Conditions are added to represent the site

(iii) Environmental conditions ensure that the model is accurate

Modelling of a wetland restoration site, illustration by Anna Blacka, UNSW WRL

(iv) Computer modelling allows for multiple scenarios to be tested