Though I only arrived in Tāmaki Makaurau two months ago, I can see our region is growing. And as it grows, water is becoming ever more precious.
I've come here to lead Watercare through a challenging period. It's clear the company's ability to provide services is becoming more complex as existing water sources are increasingly stretched, the availability of land diminishes, and our climate changes. And though Aucklanders have done an outstanding job of reducing their water use over the past year, our region's total water use will increase over time because of population and economic growth.
That's why growth, resilience and climate change are dominating our thinking as we finalise our infrastructure investment programme for the next 20 years.
On July 1, we will publish our Asset Management Plan which will set out how we will ensure our customers continue to receive safe and reliable water and wastewater services into the future. To achieve this, we will spend around $18.5 billion. That essentially means an investment of $2.5 million every single day over 20 years in capital works or building assets.
We're focused on growth because the region's population is forecast to rise by 29 per cent over the next two decades, adding a further 476,000 people to the current population.
Currently, we're close to completing the first stage of a new water treatment plant in Tūākau which will produce up to 50 million litres of water a day. Over the next 20 years, this plant will gradually expand as our population grows until it can produce up to 150 million litres of water a day.
Our intent to increase the volume of water drawn from the Waikato River makes sound sense. The river is less reliant on rain falling in specific locations because its catchment area covers 14,000 square kilometres. It is more resilient to droughts than our dams in the Hūnua and Waitakere Ranges, which have a combined catchment area of only 158sq km.
But water from the Waikato River is more expensive to produce because it needs intensive treatment and must be pumped further north to the city.
For us to progress past the first stage of the new treatment plant, we need to secure a resource consent to draw additional water from the river. Our application is currently before a Board of Inquiry, with a decision expected by the end of 2021.
While the Waikato River is anticipated to meet our needs over the next 20 years, we are starting conversations with Aucklanders about future water sources now.
The new sources may include desalination and purified recycled water; both of which will require a higher level of community acceptance than our current water sources.
Increasing our resilience is a priority because the services we provide are critical to the health of Auckland's people, environment, and economy.
We need networks that can continue to operate during extreme weather events and other
emergencies – because we recognise that climate change will only increase the frequency of those emergencies.
For example, in the next 10 years we plan to replace the ageing Huia Water Treatment Plant with a new plant that will have more advanced treatment processes and will be better equipped to respond to variable weather conditions. If we want a resilient network, we can't keep propping up a century-old plant.
In a similar vein, we can't turn a blind eye to network water losses. That's why our proactive leak detection programme – where we survey 6000km of pipes each year – must
Climate change is a critical consideration because our assets operate for many decades.
Our infrastructure will be delivered using dynamic adaptive planning which allows us to make short-term commitments without locking in long-term decisions that may not be optimal.
Delivering more robust infrastructure costs money, as does operating advanced treatment plants and pumps. We care about charging our customers fairly. That's why every dollar our customers pay us for water and wastewater services is used to deliver those services.
Up until now, our charges have typically increased by around 3 per cent every year.
However, the impact of Covid-19 on the Auckland Council group's revenue means we are not able to borrow as much as we would like, to fund our investment programme.
Therefore, we need to make up the shortfall in borrowings by increasing our service charges on July 1. This means households with typical water use will pay around $1.50 more per week for their water and wastewater services.
While price rises are never welcomed, I believe they're necessary at this time. With our 20-year programme of work, our customers can feel confident that Watercare is rising to the predictable challenges of population growth and the unpredictable challenges of climate change both now and in the years to come.
• Jon Lamonte became chief executive of Watercare on April 6, moving to Auckland from Australia where he was head of Sydney Metro.