According to the Auckland Council website: "Watercare Services Limited provides reliable water and wastewater services to the people and businesses of Auckland." The adjective may need adjustment in light of the worsening supply issue currently facing the region.
Ngā Kaitiaki Wai/Watercare is most likely not alone to blame. As winter sets in, we may need reminding of the brilliant, clear skies which were so common over summer.
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In January and February, this region and Northland received less than 10 per cent of normal rainfall. The situation didn't change much in March. Northland, Auckland and northern Waikato remained parched in a meteorological drought and were moved to a "severe meteorological drought" on April 1, according to NIWA's New Zealand Drought Index.
On April 15, Watercare noted the total volume of water stored in our dams dropped below 50 per cent for the first time in more than 25 years. The 50 per cent mark meant Watercare could consider mandatory water restrictions across Auckland. Given the ongoing Covid-19 threat, restrictions have not been practical, but if the rain doesn't arrive soon restrictions are inevitable.
While the weather has been extreme, we have every reason to believe the changing climate will only mean this recurs, most likely more frequently. Given the events of 2013, when the water suppy dropped to 36 per cent, it's suprising to find ourselves in a similar pickle, having had seven years to find and implement solutions.
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.
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Mayor Phil Goff said Watercare has also applied for resource consent to take 100 million 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 take to take a further 200 million litres of water a day from the Waikato River required a resource consent which was lodged in December 2013.
The application is before the Waikato Regional Council and sits in a processing queue with, somehow, 94 other consents to be considered first. Goff said he has written to Environment Minister David Parker seeking to change the Resource Management Act so consents can be heard in terms of priority. The residents of Auckland would co-sign this letter with a footnote: "Pull finger, minister."
In the immediate term, there is hope. The Waitākere and Hunua ranges are predicted to have 28 per cent and 39 per cent, respectively, more rainfall than normal in the week beginning May 18. Even if the rain comes, drastic rationing will be required.
Meanwhile, Auckland Council should consider whether Watercare's supply is "reliable" or whether it needs to pull finger on long-term remedies. Lest we're here again in seven years, or - more likely - sooner.