Thieves have stooped to a new low in parched Northland by nearly emptying two water tanks at a rural school in what the principal described as a "despicable" act.
Tinopai School, 30km south east of Ruawai, rely almost solely on rainwater that fills up two water tanks, each holding 25,000 litres.
Sometime before the school opened for the new year on February 3, up to 40,000 litres of water was siphoned the both tanks. Principal Sonya Kaihe has reported the theft to Dargaville police.
The tanks were nearly full when checked on January 10.
"It's devastating for the kids and the community where everyone knows everyone and most of the kids are whanau so I don't think someone from our community would have done this.
"It's despicable ... disheartening that this kind of dishonesty is against our kids. There are a lot of people who can't afford to buy water and see this as a chance to take advantage," Kaihe said.
The school has a roll of 16 students and Tinopai has about 180 residents.
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Kaihe said luckily, the school had a small feeder tank that was used for hand washing and toilet needs only, while a local water carrier filled up one of the two tanks on the first day of school.
It cost the school $269 to buy 10,000 litres of water— money she said could have been used on new digital technology to enhance students' learning.
She is meeting with the board of trustees next week to discuss "where to from here".
Kaihe said staff initially thought there may be a leak when they discovered the nearly empty tanks but when they didn't see lush areas of grass growth anywhere in the school compound, they concluded water had been stolen.
"We investigated and there is a possibility someone could have run a long hose from the taps down to the road. In the past, I've caught holidaymakers filling up 20 to 30 litres at a time and I've spoken to them but that was only on a small scale."
The school also has a bore but the water is undrinkable and is used only in the garden.
Dargaville police have confirmed a report has been lodged and that an investigation is under way.
Kaipara mayor Jason Smith was extremely disappointed to hear of the theft of water from a school at a time he said the entire community across the district was distressed around water shortages and restrictions.
"The important thing is there are normal systems in place for people to get water so it's not as if there's no water. Anybody can get water and to see people stealing from children is just not fair and it's absolutely unnecessary," he said.
Te Tai Tokerau Principals' Association president Pat Newman said nothing surprised him as to how low people could stoop these days.
"That act must have been carried out by someone living reasonably closer to the school and has a water tanker. You can't fit that much water in a milk bottle.
"These are their children they've put at risk by their thoughtless and selfish action. I hope they choke on that water. Where do you stop? Where's the decency in our community?"
Newman said it wasn't an act of vandalism carried out by children but an action by an adult or adults familiar with the school surroundings.
Anyone with information on the water theft should contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111, Dargaville police on 09 439 3400, or the school in confidence on 09 431 7182.