Severe water shortages for Aucklanders on tank supply are sparking calls to connect more properties to the city's network with the situation expected to only worsen with climate change.
But for many residents the connection fees, which for some rural residents can be as high as $30,000 for both wastewater and reticulated supply, is well out of reach and a councillor is calling for more assistance for those who want to connect.
Auckland Council estimates there are about 50,000 households on rainwater tanks across the region with a large increase in recent years, particularly around the Rodney and Franklin wards.
With a record-breaking dry run this summer there has been unprecedented demand on water tank re-filling services, with one company reporting a waiting list well over 200 households long, and some residents reporting nearly two-month wait times.
The Herald has profiled desperate families surviving on minimal water - including one with a two-week-old baby - and even people having to move out of their homes after their tanks ran dry.
Auckland Council has stepped in to provide emergency relief with temporary filling stations and even employing dairy tankers to distribute water faster, but Rodney ward councillor Greg Sayers said there needed to be a better long-term solution.
"The situation for many families is dire. Sanitary conditions for households are critically poor in those households without water. This is of considerable concern for the wellbeing of these Aucklanders.
"With climate change we are going to see more of this dry weather, and for longer. At the moment we are scrambling to get water to domestic households, and there need to be systems in place so this doesn't happen again.
"I'd like to see some sort of amnesty for those on tank supply who could connect to the reticulated system, or at least hook on for a lot lower cost. Estimates of $20,000 to $30,000 is just too much for many households."
Sayers said he had been in contact with Watercare about developing a cost-benefit analysis to help residents connect.
A Watercare spokeswoman said they estimated there were several thousand properties about Whangaparaoa Peninsula, Snells Beach, Warkworth, Patumahoe, Clarks Beach, Glenbrook Beach, Wellsford, Helensville, Kumeu, Riverhead and Huapai that could connect to the reticulated supply but had chosen not to.
Areas already connected to the wastewater network only had to pay half Watercare's infrastructure growth charge to connect to the reticulated water supply, ranging from about $8000 on the Whangaparāoa Peninsula, Clarks Beach and Waiuku; up to to about $14,000 in Helensville.
Watercare was developing local networks in Clevedon to service new developments in the area, and about 100 properties had expressed interest in connecting, she said.
However, Franklin local board chairman Andrew Baker said for many residents it was simply uneconomical.
"Some who have been on tanks for a long time and are more used to managing their water don't want to connect, and have to pay the steep connection fees."
But some others who did want to connect faced total connection fees for wastewater and water supply of around $20,000, and some quoted much higher depending on the location.
The local board had been working with the council and Watercare on a specific rate so residents could pay off the connection fee over a longer period.
Other areas of growth like Beachlands were also being looked at, but getting the pipes there was likely proving uneconomical.
"It is difficult to compel people to connect when it is so damn costly. In the long term with growing populations and drier periods we need more uptake, but it is always going to come back to who pays."
Watercare's head of operations excellence Priyan Perera said Auckland had a vast range of water sources which made the network more resilient compared with other regions, with storage dams, aquifers and the Waikato River to draw from.
While its responsibility was to its customers - those connected to the city network - it worked with the council and developers on expanding the network to areas of high population growth.
He accepted the connection costs could be high but by connecting to the network residents could pass on the supply risk to Watercare.
They were looking to expand the network of tank filling stations, along with expanding the supply network to areas of high population growth following consultation with the council and developers.
Despite record water usage this summer, Perera said the city's water supply was in good shape.
Watercare's future supply planning involved factoring in the city's residential and industrial growth, alongside the impacts of climate change - expected to cut spring rainfall but increase autumn rain, along with more extreme rainfall events and increasingly dry periods.
In the short term that involved increasing capacity through projects like the Hunua 4 watermain running from Manukau to Khyber Pass, new reservoirs at Pukekohe, and the Warkworth Water Treatment Plant.
Further out Watercare was looking to lodge a resource consent to increase the amount of water it draws from the Waikato River, and more long-term look at increasing storage dam capacity and re-use options.
"But from a resource perspective, our water is well managed and we are in a great position, but we do need to continue to invest in infrastructure."
Watercare's current major water supply projects
• Clevedon - water and wastewater services project, which involves connecting existing rural residents with rainwater tanks.
• Hunua 4 watermain - starting in 2012 Watercare has been installing a new water pipeline that runs from Redoubt Rd in Manukau and to Khyber Pass in the central city, at a cost of $400 million. This is designed to increase the amount and speed of getting water to the city to handle forecast population growth.
• Warkworth Water Treatment Plant - opened in early 2019, it is Watercare's largest water treatment plant not connected to the metropolitan network, drawing water from nearby aquifers.
• Water reservoirs in Pukekohe - the two new 50-million-litre reservoirs will increase the amount of treated drinking water readily available as population in the area increases.
Measures to assist residents on tank supply
• Residents can take a shower and fill water containers at Stanmore Bay Pool and Leisure Centre, Albany Stadium Pool, Glenfield Pool and Leisure Centre, West Wave Pool and Leisure Centre in Henderson, Franklin Pool and Leisure Centre, Jubilee Swimming Pool and Aquatic Centre in Pukekohe, Whiteside Pool in Waiuku and Massey Park Pool in Papakura.
• People can take up to 20L of water per person in their household per day, in handheld containers from the following locations: Wellsford Community Centre, Warkworth Town Hall, Helensville Library, Orewa Service Centre, Te Puru Community Centre, Matiatia car park and Onetangi Sports Park on Waiheke Island, Piha Domain Campground and Kawakawa Bay Community Hall.
• Auckland Council is also working with private suppliers of large tankers to see what tankers can be made available to assist.
For more information visit the Auckland Council website.