Water restrictions are being relaxed for businesses in Auckland, but a ban on outdoor water use by residents will stay in place.
Auckland councillors opted today to play it safe with the city's vulnerable water supply after one of the worst droughts in the city's history.
They have rejected a proposal by the board of Watercare to ease water restrictions for businesses and households in order to avoid the risk of severe water restrictions later in summer.
From October 12, businesses will be allowed to use hoses with a trigger nozzle outdoors, commercial car washes will resume and sports fields, plants and paddocks can be watered with irrigation systems fitted with soil moisture or rain sensors.
The move will benefit house cleaning businesses, builders, maintenance contractors and plant nurseries.
However, the ban on washing cars, houses and watering the garden by residents, which came into effect on May 16, will remain for now and be reviewed in December. Residents use 70 per cent of the city's water.
The decision was based on the need to maintain 5 per cent water savings over summer, new water sources being brought on stream, weather forecasts, the state of the city's dams and the potential consequences if forecast rain does not eventuate.
The city's dams have recovered from dangerously low levels and are at 67.5 per cent full, but this is still 20 per cent lower than a normal year heading into summer when water use soars.
What's more, the dams in the Hunua Ranges, which supply 60 per cent of Auckland's water, are still at low levels, compared to the smaller dams in the Waitākere Ranges.
MetService and Niwa are forecasting an average to dry spring rather than an earlier prediction of a drier spring, and wetter weather in January and February with possible cyclones, but have advised there is little reliability with the long-range forecasts.
Ian Maxwell, council's director of executive services, said extra water from the Waikato River and other sources, such as a dam in Papakura and a bore in Pukekohe, were providing an extra 40 million litres of water a day, but "Auckland is not out of the woods yet".
Brian Edwards, vice-president of the Exterior Cleaning Industry Association, urged councillors to ease the restrictions on the industry, saying they had led to business failures and job losses.
"2020 is a year in business in Auckland to remember with two Covids, one water restriction and now one broken bridge," he said.
Edwards said the city was currently using about 400 million litres a day, compared to 280,000 litres of water being taken from non-potable stations a day for exterior cleaning, or 0.07 per cent of the daily usage.
"The current loss on the network is about 53m litres a day, which is 13.6 per cent. If we can improve the loss by half a per cent this could cover the water used at non-potable stations," said Edwards.
Councillor Angela Dalton, who supported lifting restrictions on households, said: "A number of people rely on gardens for a food source, but it is also a form of therapy. Water restrictions have been hard on them."
Deputy mayor and Franklin councillor Bill Cashmore, whose farm backs onto the Hunua Ranges, said he had never seen the area so dry over winter.
"We must take a precautionary approach. This drought is not over... it's living still," he said.
Mayor Phil Goff said: "Let's look at reality. We might have saved 40 million litres a day, but guess what? Despite huge savings and extra supply our dam levels are not rising. They have gone down in the last 17 days."
The vote to continue with water restrictions for households was carried by 10 votes to nine with two abstentions.
How they voted
To note that water restrictions for households remain unchanged
Mayor Phil Goff, Deputy Mayor Bill Cashmore, Josephine Bartley, Cathay Casey, Pippa Coom, Linda Cooper, Chris Darby, Tracy Mulholland, Greg Sayers, John Watson.
Efeso Collins, Angela Dalton, Alf Filipaina, Chris Fletcher, Daniel Newman, Desley Simpson, Sharon Stewart, Wayne Walker, Paul Young.
Shane Henderson, Richard Hills.