Far North District Council's drought bill is $6 million-plus and counting.

The drought has already cost Far North District Council (FNDC) $6.3m. That figure's increasing by up to $100,000 a day. The drought's cost is expected to climb closer to $9m by May, when weather could turn around.

"Crisis costs," FNDC Mayor John Carter told last Wednesday's full council meeting at Kaikohe in an air-conditioned environment while sun and a 28C temperature continued to blast everything outside.


He said the drought was the worst the district had faced.

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The drought's extra costs for FNDC include repairing the water pipeline in Kaikohe's main street Broadway that burst on February 21, finding solutions to ever-worsening drought conditions such as the pipeline being built to connect groundwater from Sweetwater to the Kaitaia town supply, and paying for Whangarei District Council water trucked north.

Investigation is now under way into the New Zealand Defence Force providing a saltwater desalination plant to make sure Hokianga's Rawene Hospital has enough water. Water use restrictions for Rawene's reticulated council supply are currently on the toughest, level-four water controls.

Nine 25,000-litre water tanks will be installed at schools on reticulated supplies in Kaikohe and Okaihau. Photo / Jenny Ling
Nine 25,000-litre water tanks will be installed at schools on reticulated supplies in Kaikohe and Okaihau. Photo / Jenny Ling

Councillors approved $5m in additional emergency drought response budget for the chief executive to provide required support towards securing water supplies across the district. This is on top of $2.5m in Government money via the Provincial Growth Fund recently granted to the council to deal with the drought.

"There is no substantial rainfall predicted within the immediate future and actions are required to be put in place to enable council to be agile and support affected communities," FNDC chief financial officer Janice Smith said in her council meeting emergency drought response agenda item.

An initial motion put by councillor John Vujcich (SUBS: correct) and seconded by councillor Dave Collard to approve this additional emergency drought relief budget was set at $2m, but councillors amended this upwards.

Councillor Kelly Stratford said the council needed to be realistic about the amount of money approved, saying $5m would be a more reasonable sum. Councillor Rachel Smith also questioned whether $2m was enough given the situation.

Andy Finch, general manager infrastructure and asset management, said all efforts to date had focused on reducing and dealing with the drought's immediate effects to keep water flowing to Kaitaia and Kaikohe townships and planning for how to deal with the situation if that could no longer happen.

"It is anticipated that the serious nature of the water situation in the Far North will result in additional expenditure over and above that provided in the annual plan," Smith said.

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FNDC staff are being diverted from other work where possible to deal with the drought. Council financial management has gone through all FNDC budget areas to find money that can instead be put towards drought management.

The Army has been deployed to Kaitaia to help with the water crisis.
The Army has been deployed to Kaitaia to help with the water crisis.

"We are going to have to pull back on other work streams because we are facing a crisis," councillor Felicity Foy said.

FNDC currently has the toughest level-four water use controls on five of its eight reticulated council water supplies, one on level-three restriction and another on level two.

Foy said it was important to think of communities across the district.

Rawene, Paihia/Kawakawa and Moerewa were of particular concern. Bulk water suppliers were filling up locally and putting pressure on some communities, Moerewa being a case in point she said.

"How are we working to support our other level-four communities [outside Kaitaia and Kaikohe] and what Government support are we going to see for these communities as well?" Foy asked.

Whangārei's first water restrictions came into force last Wednesday as the city continues to send its water north.
Carter thanked Whangārei for its water supply into the Far North.

Whangārei water has been used to supply what has now grown to six emergency water supply tanks in Kaikohe.

Finch said the burst water main in Kaikohe's main street on February 21 meant FNDC was within just three hours of needing to tap into those emergency supplies for the town.

Whangarei water has also been used to fill emergency firefighting pods in Kaikohe and Kaitaia and is being trucked direct to water distributing businesses. Most recently it's being brought north for distribution around the district's marae, which are at the heart of local communities.

Water treatment plants across FNDC are working around the clock, seven days a week to try to maintain supply.

"This leaves little time for maintenance and there is an increased risk of plant failure," Smith said.

She said there was now an increased incidence of water pipe breakages because drought was drying out the ground. This put pressure on budgets allocated for maintenance.

"If council loses the ability to provide water to households because supply has failed it will need to be able to access alternative water provision for communities. The provision of water will need to ensure that all persons requiring support can access support, including those who rely on water for medical reasons and the elderly who may not be able to access any water distribution points," Smith said.

FNDC chief executive Shaun Clarke acknowledged Government funding that had provided $2.5m towards the $6.3m council drought cost to date.