You may have heard the water's running low up here in the Far North. Right now, it's drier than a wedding speech by Geoffrey Palmer. We've got used to letting it mellow if it's yellow, but I'm starting to worry that if it's brown we may have to leave it around.
It's so bad that, according to Northland Federated Farmers president John Blackwell, the declaration of a drought was "good news" because it allows some relief measures to come on-stream.
The last major drought was 10 years ago. In that time, notes one disgruntled former councillor on social media, no fewer than four councils have come and gone without doing anything productive about it. You'd be spitting if you were sufficiently hydrated.
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There are two ways you can look at that decade. One is that 10 years is a useful amount of time in which to get organised and make arrangements for the next drought. The other is the option that was taken, which appears to have been saying: "Well, everything seems to be all right. Let's not over-react," on a year-by-year basis.
The infrastructure has been left untampered with. The Kerikeri water main break last Monday was obviously a one off. For that week. A breakage in the water line to Rawene the week before, which saw the reservoir down to 12 per cent, was also a one-off. Thank goodness there wasn't a third incident or it might look like a pattern was emerging.
Although water is thin on the ground, we are not short of responses, which range from inadequate to fatuous.
"Water is critical for Northland's economy and wellbeing," observed Winston Peters. He's from around here so I guess he'd know.
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"The only way to ensure certainty of supply is to conserve water and reduce demand," explained the Far North District Council website.
Actually, there is another way and that is to have an adequate supply to start with.
To this end the Provincial Growth Fund has given $12 million for water infrastructure. "A lot of Northland's rain comes at once," gushed Northland Regional Council chairwoman Penny Smart, welcoming the news. "The water storage project is about collecting the rain water and making it available when it is needed."
In fact, this whole storing water idea is not a totally new notion. The regional council last year was given $18.5m for feasibility studies on water storage projects. I can tell them for considerably less than that that water storage is very feasible. A lot of Northland's rain has been coming at once since forever. Why it's taken so long to connect this to the notion that it would be good to collect it all at once is not clear.
These amounts can be compared to other PGF grants: $20m to develop mussel farming in Opotiki, and another nearly $20m to develop the Rotorua lakefront "to a world-class standard" and $10m to Ruapehu Alpine Lifts for general infrastructure and a new gondola. Good to know Opotiki, Rotorua and Ruapehu are all good for water.
And $4.6m for the Manea Footprints of Kupe Cultural Heritage and Education Centre just down the road in Opononi. The centre will be a thing of beauty and a tourist drawcard, which is lovely, but it would be nice to be able to offer the visitors a glass of water when they're here.
Given the inability of the people in charge to do anything about this long-standing problem, perhaps some of the Provincial Growth Fund could be used to send them on a management course. It could start by teaching them how to achieve something straightforward, such as organising a social occasion in a facility where beer is made, then gradually work up to ensuring a water supply for the region they are meant to serve. At the moment, the elected representatives and council staff are displaying a level of competence more commonly associated with the management of Radio New Zealand.