Auckland Council has confirmed it will today consider introducing mandatory water restrictions in response to the worst drought in the city's history.
"Auckland is experiencing its worst drought on record, with January to April this year the driest in our history," said Mayor Phil Goff said today.
"We have had a long hot summer with less than half of our normal rainfall, which means our storage dams have fallen to around 46.5 per cent, well below the 76 per cent average for this time of year."
For households, watering gardens, washing cars and waterblasting properties would be prohibited if the restrictions are implemented.
"For the commercial sector, additional restrictions will apply to commercial car washing, and watering of sports fields, plants and paddocks," Goff said.
The council could give Watercare the power to impose fines of up to $20,000 for people who break the rules.
"For some months, Watercare, with Auckland Council backing, has run a campaign around the need to conserve water. We now need to reinforce that message with mandatory restrictions, which is what the Emergency Committee is considering today," Goff said.
If councillors agreed the mandatory water restrictions would kick in on Saturday May 16.
The council's Emergency Committee will consider different stages of water restrictions:
• Restrictions for commercial and non-residential water usage at Stage 1 include banning the use of outdoor hoses or water blasters unless it is for a health, safety, emergency or biosecurity reason; banning commercial car washes unless they use recycled water; and restricting the watering of sports fields, plants or paddocks to those which have an irrigation system fitted with soil moisture or rain sensors.
• Non-residential and commercial restrictions at Stage 2 would be similar, but would include banning all watering of sports fields.
• "The mandatory restrictions will highlight water conservation overall. By everyone saving a little, we can save many millions of litres of water and avoid the need to move to more draconian restrictions under stage 3, should winter and spring not bring enough rainfall," Goff said.
Waitākere councillor Linda Cooper, the liaison councillor for Watercare, said enforcing the restrictions would take a graduated approach, with education as the first priority - escalating to prosecution "only if there are significant or repeated breaches".
"Aucklanders understand the need to conserve water during this time, and we are hoping that people will voluntarily restrict activities such as watering their gardens and using water-blasters without the need for enforcement," she said.
"If restrictions are agreed, they will be notified publicly to ensure that all Aucklanders are aware of their responsibilities."
$20,000 fines to enforce
The Herald revealed earlier today that mandatory water restrictions - enforced by fines of up to $20,000 - will almost certainly be approved by Auckland Council today in response to the worst summer drought in the city's history.
A ban on outdoor water use would prevent watering gardens, washing cars and water blasting properties - with the crackdown proposal to be considered by the council's emergency committee.
• Watercare pleased with water savings but still waiting for significant rain
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The measures follow voluntary restrictions on outdoor water use in response to a severe drought that has seen the city's storage dams fall sharply to 46.5 per cent full - far lower than 66 per cent at this time last year.
Watercare has also asked Aucklanders to shorten showers to four minutes, but this will not be part of the mandatory measures which have been flagged for the past couple of weeks as a few rain showers have hardly made an impact on dam levels.
Mayor Phil Goff said Watercare had asked council to approve mandatory restrictions, warning Auckland is suffering its worst drought on record - with January to April this year the driest in the city's history.
"For some months, Watercare, with Auckland Council backing, has run a campaign around the need to conserve water. We now need to reinforce that message with mandatory restrictions, which is what the emergency committee is considering today," Goff said.
"I appreciate that there is a lot of stress due to Covid-19, which is why we have delayed bringing in these restrictions, but now we have to start taking stronger action to conserve water."
Goff said a "big stick" would not be used for the mandatory restrictions and expected Aucklanders would comply with the voluntary restrictions already in place.
Nevertheless, the council will give Watercare the power to impose fines of up to $20,000 for people who break the rules.
"While these restrictions can and will be enforced, we want Aucklanders to work with us to voluntarily save water by doing things like taking shorter showers and using dishwashers and washing machines only when full," Goff said.
There are no plans at this stage to impose water restrictions on industrial users, but if the drought drags on the council has the option of restricting water use.
Niwa meteorologist Ben Noll said Auckland has been particularly hard hit with more than 77 consecutive days spent in drought or severe drought, according to the New Zealand Drought Index. In 2013, the region experienced 58 consecutive days of drought.
In 2013, the Auckland dams dropped to 36 per cent full. The situation got so bad, Aucklanders were told to stick a brick in their toilet cisterns to save water.
Noll said the weather forecast from May to July is for near or below normal levels of rainfall in Auckland.
The onset of mandatory restrictions follows a scramble by Watercare to boost the city's dwindling water supply.
In the short-term, it is looking to increase the water supply from the Waikato River and re-open a small dam in the Hunua Ranges and a water bore in Pukekohe. Long-term, Watercare is looking at doubling the amount of water from the Waikato River, reusing wastewater and desalination.
Currently, Watercare is taking close to its daily limit of 150 million litres from the Waikato River and 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. The upgrade is due to be completed in August.
A water 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.
Manurewa-Papakura councillor Daniel Newman said the dam had gone untapped for years, saying it had the capacity to provide water for about 50,000 people in the immediate Papakura area and help address the region's challenges during the drought.
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.
However, to significantly increase the amount of water from the Waikato River required a resource consent to take a further 200m litres of water a day which was lodged in December 2013, he said.
The consent application is before the Waikato Regional Council and sits in a processing queue with 94 consents in front of it which have to be considered first.
Goff said he has written to Environment Minister David Parker asking to change the Resource Management Act so consents can be heard in terms of priority.
"That is important given the drought conditions we have got," he said.