Auckland is on the verge of compulsory water restrictions after an assurance the Waikato pipeline would safeguard the city against drought.
Watercare boss Raveen Jaduram has played down the assurance amid the latest water crisis, saying no-one knows how long or severe the drought will be.
"Our concern is for the coming summer," he said.
You can have the insurance scheme, Jaduram said, but droughts will always trigger restrictions.
Aucklanders have been asked to make voluntary savings for outdoor activities like watering gardens, washing cars and water blasting houses. These measures are expected to become compulsory given the weather forecast indicating the drought will continue over the coming weeks.
The city's storage dams have dropped to 47 per cent full, far lower than 66 per cent this time last year but still shy of a frightening 36 per cent in 1994.
The $155 million Waikato pipeline was built to safeguard Auckland against the drought that almost led the city to run dry in 1994. The situation got so bad, Aucklanders were told to put a brick in their toilet cisterns to save water.
When the pipeline opened in 2002, Aucklanders were told it would provide an unrestricted flow in any conditions up to an extreme one-in-200-year drought, rather than the existing one-in-50-year ceiling.
It would be wrong to say the message was people would never have to be asked to save water because of dry conditions, Jaduram said.
"Even if we build more capacity at Waikato, we will still be saying that there will be a drought event which will require us to ask for savings," he said.
Jaduram said the city's water infrastructure was geared for normal demand.
"If people's demand was normal, we would be okay," he said, saying to build infrastructure to handle high demand would see it sitting idle most of the time.
Jaduram said the situation facing Auckland today is severe drought and huge demand.
Aucklanders' thirst for water has soared from 167 litres per day each to a record-breaking 200-plus litres during the dry summer coupled with a huge demand from people on water tanks and bores.
Jaduram said this stemmed from a very dry 2019 with very low rainfall in the first six months that never recovered to fill the lakes. This was followed by January and February being the lowest months for rain on record.
In the past month, he said, a forecast storm did not happen and forecasts for rain had only resulted in a few drizzles.
"We are in a drought and in a drought we do need to save water," he said.