The cleaning industry warns hundreds of jobs could be lost because of Auckland's pending water restrictions and blame a "lack of action" in increasing the city's supply.
Troy Hillard, managing director of Wash Rite with seven franchises in Auckland, said the ban on the use of hoses and water blasters could cut their revenue by 70 per cent, just as they limp out of Covid-19 impacts.
"Covid brought us to our knees, and now this," Hillard said.
"This drought did not happen overnight. We have been raising concerns since the end of last year, then we get eight days' notice."
January to April have been Auckland's driest months in Auckland on record. Supply dams are 45.5 per cent full compared to a historical average of 76.7 per cent for this time of year.
Watercare also has consent to draw 150 million litres a day (MLD) from the Waikato River, which makes up about a third of the city's demand.
It was also granted consent by Waikato Regional Council (WRC) in 2017 to take an additional 25MLD from the river when it was above median flow - and during May to September - but has not finished upgrading its water treatment plant to handle the increase. It is expected to be completed by August.
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With dam levels continuing to decline, Auckland Council approved water restrictions last Friday to come in from tomorrow, asking residents not to wash their cars or water gardens with outdoor hoses and to take shorter showers.
Aucklanders already are among the lowest water users in the country at 160 litres per person a day - compared to the average of about 270 - it is hoped another 5 per cent can be saved.
Most businesses are unaffected by the restrictions as their water use is indoors, except for those in the water blasting and cleaning industries.
As such, Hillard said his industry - which involved about 70 per cent exterior building cleaning and gutter clearing - felt unfairly targeted by the restrictions.
He estimated his franchises would each use about 3000L of water a day - much less than hospitality businesses, and especially alcohol or soft drink manufacturers untouched by the restrictions, he said
He also questioned why restrictions were coming in when Watercare had consent to take more water.
"They are able to pull more out of the Waikato, but they are not running at capacity as they haven't invested the resources to upgrade the infrastructure fast enough. Meanwhile industries like ours are being brought to their knees."
Watercare had offered to support businesses with tanks of non-potable water to be used in all water-blasting and cleaning work, and said it would set up stations for collection in Onehunga, Penrose and Albany.
But today it announced although they'd all be open Saturday, from Monday only the Penrose station would be operating.
Hillard said that was not a solution, and would be uneconomical as they would need to hire a tanker, along with increased labour and fuel costs.
"This is threatening hundreds of jobs across the region. I've already had three other businesses get in touch saying they are thinking about laying people off."
Another exterior cleaning company told the Herald this week the process could cost him a minimum of $700,000 over the next six months.
Watercare spokeswoman Maxine Clayton said work began on the Waikato Water Treatment Plant in Tuakau to increase capacity in 2015, and will be completed in August, along with a new reservoir to store the water.
Based on population growth it was not anticipated the city would need to increase its water supply until 2028, and the current restrictions were because of the "severe" drought, she said.
"We need to curb demand. We need individual water savings and restrictions to stop outdoor use. We need a long period of sustained rainfall to fill our dams to normal levels."
Along with the Waikato River increase, Clayton said they were getting Hays Creek Dam in Papakura running again, and re-establishing a mobile treatment plant at a bore in Pukekohe.
Watercare had also applied last week to take 100MLD from the Waikato River outside peak demand, meaning it could be heard outside the normal consenting process, and be processed in the coming months.
Once that was granted, Watercare would begin work on a new water treatment plant to handle the increased capacity, Clayton said.
Long term, Watercare had also applied for an extra 200MLD from the Waikato River - to be taken at any time of the year, but this had to go through the normal consent process.
As the river was already over-allocated, applications were heard on a "first-in, first-served" basis. Watercare's application sat at number 96 in the queue of 384.
There had previously been calls for the consent to be moved ahead of others, especially amid the water shortage.
Mayor Phil Goff said it was "unacceptable" and he had written to Environment Minister David Parker to address it in Resource Management Act reforms. The Herald requested further information from Watercare about why it had taken five years to upgrade facilities to process the 25MLD increase, and how long it would take to increase capacity to process a further 200MLD - and how much it would cost, but these were unanswered at the time of publication.
WRC chair Russ Rimmington said his staff were working with Watercare to find solutions to the shortage, but noted Watercare was not even yet able to process its current capacity.
"Watercare is only now getting close to being able to treat the extra 25MLD it was granted by this council three years ago."
In terms of the larger consent, legally Watercare could not jump the queue under the RMA, he said.
WRC had also been advocating successive governments to improve the current first in-first served system, without any success.
"This crisis will no doubt bring attention to the shortcomings of the RMA," he said.
Environment Minister David Parker said he'd instructed officials to work with the councils to understand how and why the consent had taken so long to be considered, and what solutions there were.
He also pointed out Auckland already had approval for the 25MLD, but had not yet increased treatment capacity to use it.
"I am advised it will take three months to complete the upgrade of their water treatment plant.
"I am not aware of resource consent delays for that upgrade, but if there are any, consideration could be given to using the fast-track consent process once it is passed."