I’m learning a lot about the shortage as well as potential solutions, so thought I’d share my learnings with you. Why, exactly, are we short of water? It starts with this – a drought. More accurately, a drought and a growing city. The first four months of 2020 have been the driest since record keeping began. Since November 2019 and mid-May, we have enjoyed less than half the normal rainfall. This is considerable. Our water storage is currently 45% full (today, 8 June). This is down from its usual 76% at this time of the year, and with less than average rainfall forecast over winter, it’s growing to be nail-biting stuff.
So where does our water come from? The Waikato River provides 34.8%, our Waitakere and Hunua dams provide 61% and the Onehunga Aquifer provides 4.3%. With a growing population the city’s water demand is not set to abate, and so the question remains, where do we get extra water from?
A resource consent application to draw more water from the Waikato which was logged in 2013 has been sitting idle for some time, waiting to get to the front of the queue. That Watercare application is for an additional 200 million litres of water per day above the 150 million litres it already takes. The application is 111th of a 441 applications waiting to be worked through.
Whilst on the surface this is frustrating as there’s a clear supply to be tapped into. But when you consider that droughts will grow more frequent with our ever changing climate, is drawing more water from the Waikato ultimately another bandaid to the real problems? Chairperson of Waikato-Tainui makes it clear that the river is under stress and that they must advocate for the wellbeing of that body of water.
So what does a resilient water supply look like for our large city accustomed to an abundance of water? Without water there is no life, so firstly, let’s value it more. Our MO should be about saving water at all times, rather than waiting for restrictions to be put in place. We should be turning our heads to recycled waste water – a closed-loop system. On the surface it might seem undesirable, but it’s a system that’s been working to good effect in 35 cities around the world. A good example of this is in Perth where 14 billion litres of recycled water is added to their aquifers each year.
For now Healthy Waters and Watercare are identifying potential sources for taking non-potable (non -drinking) water supplies from ponds, lakes, aquifers and capped wells around the region. This water will support construction partners and enable economic and business continuity in that sector. Some of these sources will require a notice under s330 of the RMA to establish an urgent supply. For our local area the nearest supplies are Lake Pupuke and the Chelsea Ponds. When these supplies are established it will help to reduce the demand on our potable supply. But once again, we can’t afford to make this the norm. What we need to be asking for as we move forward is a resilient closed-loop system that responds to the pressures of population growth and extreme weather conditions and future droughts. We also all need to play our part and place greater value on our water.
Elected member of the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board for the 2019-2022 Election Term.