A West Auckland family with a 2-week-old baby are praying for rain as their tank nears empty and they face nearly another month before it can be filled.

Auckland Council estimates there are about 50,000 households on rainwater tanks across the region, putting huge pressures on water cartage services after over a month without any decent rainfall - and none forecast for at least a week.

Watercare says despite record water usage the city supply, while below average levels for this time of year, is in good shape - topped up by other sources like the Waikato River - and no restrictions are required yet.

A West Auckland man said his family's 25,000 litre tank was down to just a foot of water, and they would be waiting until early March at the minimum before it could be refilled.


To top it off, he and his wife had just had a baby boy two weeks ago - adding to their two other sons - making the water shortage all the more challenging.

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"It is pretty tricky. With a newborn the washing basket is always full, and having two other boys means there is a lot of washing."

They weren't looking for sympathy though, and "really feel" for those living in more rural areas.

"Many people are far off worse than us. At least we have some water left in the tank and if we are ultra conservative with what's left then we should be okay."

But it was the stress of finding a water supplier, one who'd make the trip to the western side of the city, that made the situation more stressful, he said.

"It's just the unknown. Not being able to get hold of any suppliers has been tough. And then when you do, they aren't willing to make the trip out west as the demand in their own areas is so high. I feel for them as well. It's not their fault.

"We now have a supplier pencilled in for early March which is great. Hopefully we can get some rain before then which will ease the situation a lot."


They'd just moved into the three-year-old house in November, and were told the original owners opted for a tank rather than connecting to the city supply, which was estimated at around $12,500, compared to about $3500 for the tank.

"While expensive, we have that option available to us. I really feel for those living in the middle of nowhere, where a water tank is their only option."

David Rust, who lives in Waiatarua with his wife, said they ran dry on Monday and were packing up to move out to live with his parents, when they received the most welcome knock on the door, from the water cartage company.

They'd contacted them about three weeks ago and were put on a waiting list, but never heard anything since.

"I'd been desperately trying to call around for the past three weeks, then he turned up out of the blue - I just hugged the guy," said Rust.

Sue Murphy who lives near the Coatesville-Riverhead Highway in northwest Auckland had to wait nearly a month to have her tank filled. Photo / File
Sue Murphy who lives near the Coatesville-Riverhead Highway in northwest Auckland had to wait nearly a month to have her tank filled. Photo / File

Where Rust lives everybody is on water tanks, and he believes it would likely not be cost-effective to connect to the city network.

However, with climate change leading to increasingly dry summers, Rust said something needed to change.

With only private water companies available, they could pick and choose easier jobs, meaning those in harder-to-reach locations missed out, had to wait much longer or pay much more - basic market economics, but not very equitable, Rust said.

He suggested a sort of rate could be introduced for those on tanks, that would guarantee a water delivery when necessary within a more acceptable time frame.

"[Shortages] happen every year, and are only going to get worse. You can monitor it all you like, conserve all you can, but with increasing numbers of people on tanks, and most in the northern areas, and climate change we are always going to lose out."

An Auckland Council spokeswoman said they estimated there were about 50,000 households on rainwater tanks - predominantly rural properties in areas of the Waitākere Ranges, Rodney, Franklin and Albany wards.

The council did not have immediate access to information about increases in numbers of those on tank supply.

"But it follows that as the city expands, land developed into housing and more people move into rural areas and onto lifestyle blocks the number will have risen exponentially," she said.

Healthy Water Tanks owner Garry Stephenson previously told the Herald in his 20 years working in the trade he'd never seen shortages this bad, with well 200 people on their waiting list.

He put the increased demand down to the housing boom in the wider area with many on rainfall tanks, unaccompanied by appropriate infrastructure to aid water suppliers.

Tankers filled up from 11 filling stations across the region, drawn from reservoirs that themselves are filled by the main water sources, such as the dams, rivers and aquifers.

But as the reservoirs lowered so did the water pressure, meaning it took longer for the tankers to fill up, Stephenson said. They were also temporarily closed when the levels dropped too low.

A Watercare spokeswoman said all 11 filling stations were currently open. Two filling stations - Whangapāraoa and Silverdale - had reduced flow rates (up to a third) that would be returned to normal Wednesday.

"We temporarily shut filling stations when reservoir levels fall to 50 per cent - it's imperative that we maintain sufficient water pressure in our network for firefighting purposes," she said.

On Monday Watercare launched a "Water is Precious" campaign to encourage Aucklanders to think about conserving water, promoting the idea of taking four-minute showers.

But it appears Aucklanders took little heed, with Monday's usage at 548 million litres, up from 525 million litres the previous day.

On February 4, Aucklanders used a record-breaking 561 million litres of water - that was in stark contrast to the average daily usage of 440 million litres in 2019.

Despite the record usage, the spokeswoman said Watercare was "comfortable" with current water storage levels and their ability to manage supply.