They only just survived the Covid-19 lockdown but now some Auckland businesses say water restrictions coming this weekend could deal them the killer blow.

On Thursday, as the region experiences its worst drought on record and storage dams dropped below 50 per cent, Auckland Council approved stage 1 water restrictions.

The restrictions, coming into force on Saturday, include a ban on the use of outdoor hoses for activities like watering gardens and washing cars and the use of water blasters, except for essential cleaning work.

Most businesses are unaffected as their water use is indoors, except for those in the water blasting and cleaning industries.

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"We only just made it through Covid-19, now it feels like we've been handed a death sentence," said Murray Robertson, co-owner and director of Supercity Property Services.

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They used water blasters for a range of professional cleaning services, disinfecting - much due to Covid-19 - and home maintenance including clearing gutters.

The Lower Nihotupu Dam in the Waitākere Ranges at less than 50 per cent of storage capacity. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The Lower Nihotupu Dam in the Waitākere Ranges at less than 50 per cent of storage capacity. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Robertson said he and other industry people he'd spoken with understood the dire water situation and need to conserve but did not understand why they were the only businesses targeted.

"My business relies on water to operate, in the same way a cafe or restaurant needs it to wash dishes, builders to make concrete or a hairdresser to wash hair. And I have 26 families relying on that water to do their jobs.

"It feels like they've just chosen us because the water use is outside and visible and easy to enforce but don't appreciate the impact this will have."

Watercare had offered to support businesses with tanks of non-potable water.

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A spokeswoman told the Herald this water could be used in all water-blasting and cleaning work. Potable water could only be used in essential cleaning services.

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But Robertson said it was uneconomical for his six vehicles to have to collect and tow non-potable water each day to carry out work.

Supercity Property Services director Murray Robertson is concerned about the upcoming water restrictions for Auckland. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Supercity Property Services director Murray Robertson is concerned about the upcoming water restrictions for Auckland. Photo / Brett Phibbs

It would add several hours a day to their jobs and he estimated the restrictions could cost him a minimum of $700,000 over the next six months.

"The only option for me if we don't achieve this will be to close the doors on a company that has provided thousands of people and business with our services for 32 years."

GutterCare Property Services general manager Ed Aitken said the restrictions could cut back his business by up to 80 per cent and this was after having made it through a slow summer and the lockdown.

"The industry appears to be sailing from one perfect storm to another."

During the lockdown revenue dropped by 97 per cent, as they could only carry out essential cleaning work, and were only kept afloat by the wage subsidy.

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"The subsidy got us through that period. We are going backwards, but only a little. We have a solid block of six weeks work ahead of us, but I am mortified to think what will happen if we can't do that.

"My team of 14 staff have worked with me for years. I will support them and the business to as great a degree as possible but I face financial ruination if our ability to trade is restricted as proposed."

Auckland mayor Phil Goff said that the council is implementing the first stage of restrictions on water use to save the city's drought-stricken reserves. Video / Michael Craig

Aitken said the property maintenance industry supported thousands of jobs across the region, and they all now faced similar uncertain futures.

"It just seems completely unfair. Either there should be restrictions on all businesses using water, or allow us to continue to trade using water sparingly and under guidelines through this period."

A Watercare spokeswoman said they were working with Auckland Council to supply non-potable water to commercial customers they could continue operating.

Large water tankers will fill up at the Three Kings quarry and discharge into portable tanks set up at various locations throughout Auckland.

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Commercial customers could then visit these large tanks and fill up their own tanks, using it for any cleaning purposes necessary.

The Lower Nihotupu Dam in the Waitākere Ranges at less than 50 per cent of storage capacity at May 3. Photo / Watercare
The Lower Nihotupu Dam in the Waitākere Ranges at less than 50 per cent of storage capacity at May 3. Photo / Watercare

Restrictions applied only to using potable water for water blasting.

Auckland Business Chamber chief executive Michael Barnett said the restrictions posed "another blow" to businesses already struggling due to Covid-19 restrictions.

"There are other sectors using more water, so it seems unfair for them to be put in this position."

It also raised the question of why the region was still waiting to hear about its consent application to increase its take from the Waikato River by 200 million litres a day, lodged back in 2013.

"It seems they have left it to an emergency to respond, but they should not have allowed this situation to happen. The Government needs to step in on this."

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Mayor Phil Goff said he'd written to Environment Minister David Parker to speed up the Waikato River resource consent application. Photo / Michael Craig
Mayor Phil Goff said he'd written to Environment Minister David Parker to speed up the Waikato River resource consent application. Photo / Michael Craig

Watercare and Auckland Council did not respond to questions posed by the Herald on this issue.

Last week in announcing the restrictions, Mayor Phil Goff said the application was before the Waikato Regional Council and sat in a queue with 94 consents in front of it, which have to be considered first.

Goff said he has asked Environment Minister David Parker to change the Resource Management Act so consents can be heard in terms of priority.

"That is important given the drought conditions," he said.

The Herald has approached Parker's office for comment.

Watercare has been taking close to its current daily limit of 150 million litres from the Waikato River since last June and is upgrading its water treatment plant alongside the river to take a further permitted 25 million litres a day when the river is above median water level.

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The upgrade is due to be completed in August.

A bore at Pukekohe, which had water quality issues and was replaced with piped water, is being brought back into service with additional processing units to ensure it meets water drinking standards for the rural town of 25,000 people.

The other short-term project is reinstating the Hays Creek Dam in the Hunua Ranges, which was decommissioned in 2005.

Long-term, Watercare is looking at doubling the amount of water from the Waikato River, reusing wastewater and desalination.

Goff said Watercare has also applied for resource consent to take 100m litres of water a day from the Waikato River between May and September if the river is above median flow, which he hoped would be granted in the next few months.

Auckland's water shortage

• Stage 1 water restrictions will be in force from May 16 and prohibit the residential use of outdoor hoses and water blasters unless for a health, safety, emergency or biosecurity reason.

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• Under stage 1 commercial car washes are also banned unless they use recycled water; and watering of sports fields, plants or paddocks is restricted to those with an irrigation system fitted with soil moisture or rain sensors.

• Watercare further advises residents to keep showers short - four minutes or less, and only run the dishwasher or washing machine when they're full. No restrictions apply to hygiene measures, and people should continue regularly washing their hands consistent with Covid-19 messaging.