Aucklanders can take a bow. They have responded admirably to the appeal from Watercare Services to reduce their water use while the city's treatment plants cope with the sediment that washed into its Hunua reservoirs last week. It seems bizarre to be facing a shortage of clean water after the deluge that has fallen on the region over the past seven days and more. This is not a summer drought. In the circumstances, it would have been no surprise if Watercare's appeal had been met with incredulity and ignored.
But not so. Asked on Friday to save 20 million litres of the 420 million they use daily, Aucklanders were saving 30 million by Saturday. All it took was advice to take quicker showers, turn off the tap while brushing teeth and wait until washing machines and dishwashers have a full load before using them. It is not hard but even so, it is always good to discover the social responsibility of our fellow citizens.
Not all, of course. There will have been some Aucklanders over the weekend who ignored the call, believing few would be heeding it and therefore disinclined to make a personal sacrifice. They might even have been a majority of the population, which would make it all the more remarkable that the responsible citizens achieved the region's required reduction. Now that they have done so, the rest might revise their assumptions and make the effort.
If they do, there will be no need for Watercare to take the next step, advising householders not to water drink the without boiling it first because the supply has had to be maintained with partial treatment.
Complying with the request to reduce consumption does not prevent questions being asked of Watercare. The obvious one is, what happened to the security provided by the pipeline to the Waikato River installed after Auckland last suffered a water shortage? When its expense was justified by the security it would provide, Aucklanders were give to believe they would have a secure source of treated water in the event that catchments in the Hunua and Waitakere ranges were depleted for any reason.
The second question is, why is it so hard to filter sediment at the Ardmore treatment plant? Of all the impurities that have to be removed to make water fit for human consumption, silt would seem the easiest. The region has certainly received a heavier drenching over the past week than is usual at this time of year, as the flooding in the Coromandel, Clevedon and parts of the city over the weekend have shown. But torrential storms are not unknown in the region in winter and spring and water in rivers and streams turns muddy.
This is not exactly an unpredictable hazard for designers of municipal water treatment plants. It is also to kind of weather event that we are warned will become more frequent with climate change. Now we are told we may have to conserve water for several weeks before the silt in the reservoirs has settled to an acceptable level. It sounds like a primitive operation.
But it has put Aucklanders' civic mindedness to a good test and we have passed, so far. It was not very hard either. It has shown how much water we normally waste and how readily we can save it when asked. Each time we respond like this, it enriches our faith in each other.