The Far North District Council has approved a major capital works programme aimed at improving the drought-resilience of the district's water supplies.

The Far North's water supplies have been under the spotlight this year as drought caused widespread water restrictions. At the peak of the drought Northland Civil Defence Emergency Management Group set up emergency water tanks in Kaitaia, Kaikohe and Rawene in case the towns' taps ran dry entirely, but they were not needed.

As well, the Awanui River, Kaitaia's main water supply, was down to record low levels.

The council resolved in June last year to develop a bore site at Sweetwater, and to pipe water 14km to the treatment plant at Kaitaia. Last month it gave management the green light to proceed with the $14.15 million project.

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The council is negotiating to buy land at a site where it owns a bore, and has a resource consent to take 5000 cubic metres of water a day from two production wells. It is also talking to property owners along the proposed pipeline route with a view to obtaining easements. Construction of the bores and pipeline could begin in November, and work finished in mid-late 2021.

Approval has also been given for $2.1m worth of drought-resilience works in other areas, including $1.1m to develop a new bore at Monument Hill in Kaikohe, where there was an acute water shortage last summer, and $150,000 to build a permanent weir in the Awanui River, Kaitaia's main water source.

The weir will raise the river level near the water treatment intake pipe, allowing the council to continue drawing water when flows are low.

Mayor John Carter said drought-resilience projects may benefit substantially from funding under the Government's Three Waters reform programme.

The council voted unanimously last month to join the initial phase of the programme, in return for a share of $28m for Three Waters infrastructure in Northland.

The district council would receive initial funding of $5.9m, and may receive more when the Northland councils allocate funding for regional projects.

Joining the reform programme at this stage committed councils only to sharing information about their drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure, and to working with neighbouring councils to consider the creation of large-scale service delivery entities.

While all three Northland district councils have signed up to Three Waters, some have raised concerns that it could take away independence and lead to increased water charges.

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Carter said securing permanent supplementary water sources for Kaitaia and Kaikohe had been a top priority for the council since last summer after record low rainfall in 2019 came close to leaving both towns without water.

"The drought and the likelihood of further dry summers have underscored the need to develop new water sources for these towns."