That wonderful quote in our English history should be changed in New Zealand to: "Water, water everywhere and not a drop is saved!"

I am referring to our drought-stricken country and the plight of our primary producers - farmers. To me there are two issues in New Zealand: potable water catchments and stormwater catchments. We would never have water shortages in this country if innovation was introduced, and bureaucracy pushed into the background and replaced with practical common sense.

When I first entered local government on the Coromandel in 1998, I was taken up to a water catchment area on the Wade River by two locals who said that this catchment was excellent, and put a bulldozer in the stream when supplies of water reduced to increase the catchment. This sounded like common sense to me, but when I took the idea to council it was rejected on the basis that water storage and dams were not the preferred option for regional councils.

So when the new water system was introduced, 15km of pipe was laid with the intake coming from the Whangamaroro River on the 309 Rd to Moewai Rd. I do not blame the Thames Coromandel District Council (TCDC) for this huge cost of $15 million for the new water supply for Whitianga because the only consent available from Regional Council was for a river intake option.


To digress a little - but still on the same issue - I will give some facts on the abuse of water intakes on the Waikato River, north of the Karapiro Dam. There are four intakes of water and four discharges of wastewater into the Waikato River plus major use from the Huntly Power Station. Imagine the quality of the water when it reaches Mercer!

Now digressing again and the use of water tanks. Forty years ago, water tanks were mandatory on all New Zealand homes in urban areas. Today you would only see 5 per cent of the population using water tanks.

In the early 2000s Jenny Rowan, the then Mayor of Kapiti Coast north of Wellington, introduced - together with her council - that it be mandatory that all new dwellings built would have a water tank and also a "grey" water tank for toilet flushing. What a wonderful initiative that was lost in bureaucracy and ignored totally by the regional councils.

I had an opportunity to put forward the Kapiti Coast initiative when serving on the Tairua/Pauanui Community Board. This community was facing a new water system costing over $20 million. The intake was to be taken from the Tairua River, 25km from the township. The board argued successfully to continue using the upper catchment from the Oturu and Pepe Streams and put reservoirs in Tairua and Pauanui.

This saved the ratepayers $15 million and was a great outcome.

To protect the supplies of water the board approached TCDC to introduce the Kapiti Coast system that new dwellings would have water and grey water tanks. This was rejected and I was personally abused by a developer for even suggesting this option.

Now to the second issue - stormwater catchments. New Zealand has more rain per capita than most countries in the world. So why don't we save some from disappearing into the ocean? We accept we have droughts every few years; we take all the anxiety, despair and losses on the chin without doing anything.

NGO organisations such as World Vision and ChildFund have schemes in Africa in drought-stricken areas to conserve water. They build sand dams and stormwater to get areas through dry periods. What do we do in New Zealand? Nothing!

Red tape, bureaucracy and outdated thinking from regional councils - and a lack of direction from central Government - has put New Zealand in a Third World country scenario. Imagine higher water storage throughout our country to provide relief to drought-stricken areas through irrigation.

Footnote: Canterbury Plains could become the fruit basket of Australasia if water storage existed on the Southern Alps.

Noel Hewlett was a Thames Coromandel District Councillor between 1998 and 2010.