Shane Jones has berated Far North District Council for failing to future-proof vital water sources in the drought-ravaged region.
The Regional Economic Development Minister, who lives in the Far North, said the council needs to "turbo-charge" its long-term water solutions and secure water supplies to vulnerable towns in the district.
His comments come the day after he announced $2 million from the Provincial Growth Fund to set up temporary water supplies in Kaikohe and Kaitaia, as the effects of the severe drought start to impact other areas.
These include roading maintenance problems caused by extended dry weather, and fears of contaminated waterways as more people take to rivers and water holes to bathe.
Jones said it's "totally unacceptable for Kaikohe and Kaitaia residents to suffer the water hardships they're currently going through".
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"If two of our major Far North towns are approaching shut-downs because of the shortage of water; well that association is with [Third World] Africa, not New Zealand," he said.
"Council has to turbo-charge its long-term solution. The next step is to future-proof towns like Kaikohe and Kaitaia."
Both Far North towns are on level four restrictions, where water use is restricted to essential cooking, drinking and washing.
Emergency tanks have been set up in both towns, as their main water sources – the Awanui river in Kaitaia and the Wairoro stream in Kaikohe – run dry.
Jones made the funding announcement on Tuesday.
He said the temporary solution is to create the infrastructure to pipe water from a bore on Sweetwater Farm in the case of Kaitaia, and from Lake Omapere for Kaikohe.
Water will be pumped to the towns' water treatment facilities before it is piped to households.
To do this, up to $2m would be released from the PGF, he said, with the expected $400,000 balance to be met by council. The projects will be led by former Ministry for Primary Industries director general Martyn Dunne.
"Without this water, industries across all sectors face having to scale back or halt operation," Jones said.
"This project will ensure economic activity remains under way in Northland. It also ensures that residents in these communities can continue their lives without significant hardship and disruption."
Jones said that when he was attending Waitangi earlier this month people from all walks of life approached him about their fears of water shortages.
"They were fearful that the ongoing water shortage would reduce them to relying on buckets. I asked officials to see if that was excessive of the situation. They came back and said it's a genuine crisis.
"What people are saying is thank God you've stepped up with short-term relief, but the long term remains outstanding.
"Whether or not there has to be more robust intervention … that decision is not with me. The fact we [Government] are stumping up $2m means we want to work with council to solve the problem."
Meanwhile, some Far North families have taken to the rivers and swimming holes to bathe in a bid to save water.
The Northland Regional Council is now concerned the waterways are becoming contaminated with soaps, shampoo and shaving cream.
"We understand that people are trying to save water in their homes, but they're swapping one problem for another by using products that contaminate the water," NRC water and waste monitoring manager Ali McHugh said.
"The detergents in the products they're using can degrade water quality and the effects of contaminants on the river ecology is multiplied during low flows. No soap is a safe soap ... leave your personal hygiene products at home."
Northland's drought is also hampering maintenance on many of the region's unsealed roads.
Northland Transportation Alliance manager Calvin Thomas said extremely dry conditions are making normal maintenance work difficult or even counterproductive.
"We rely on a minimum level of ground moisture to bond graded gravel to the road's sub surface. Currently, there's just no moisture there.
"This summer, the ground is so dry the gravel and clay underneath cannot bond. Cutting deeper to remove corrugations and pot-holes in these conditions often does more damage to the road ... and usually causes an increase in complaints."
He urged road users to be patient, drive to the conditions and keep reporting dangerous road conditions to their council.
The NTA - a collaboration between Kaipara, Whangārei and Far North district councils, and Northland Regional Council and the NZ Transport Agency - will assess each section of road reported to decide what repairs are possible, he said.