The common thread connecting the water supply shortages in Auckland and Thames-Coromandel has been decades of disregarding of scientists' warnings about climate change induced droughts and a woeful lack of foresight and planning by their civic leaders.
Thames-Coromandel has just spent 95 consecutive days in drought – the longest drought period for any district in NZ. Severe water shortages lasted for six months in eastern Coromandel and Auckland faces a water crisis.
Decades of warnings from climate scientists about more frequent and severe droughts have gone unheeded. Our communities are now paying the price.
New research by climate scientists has found the 2007 and 2013 droughts – which the Treasury estimates led to $4.8 billion in lost GDP – were seriously exacerbated by climate change. $800 million of this lost GDP was due to climate change – one-sixth of the total damages.
Thames Coromandel District Council holds a 2006 resource consent to supply water to Whitianga that expires in 2025.
The 2006 consent decision noted that the 19-year consent duration provided ample time for TCDC to consider upgrade options. No steps have yet been made to future-proof this supply. Similar lax planning has occurred in Auckland.
There are a host of actions councils could have taken in response to climate scientists' warnings of more frequent and severe climate change induced drought.
Easy quick solutions include not requiring a resource consent to install on-site water storage, and low or no interest loans to incentivise these installations.
There is a scandalous wastage of water – Auckland's drinking water pipes are leaking at least 50 million litres a day, far more than Aucklanders have been asked to save during the most severe shortage in decades. TCDC needs to measure and fix water wastage in its facilities.
Public water conservation campaigns need to be year-round, not just in times of extreme drought.
We need controls for new subdivisions which require on-site storage and recognition that urban development cannot continue unabated unless water supplies are guaranteed to cope with projected drought.
We need recognition that local rivers are precious and cannot be drained indefinitely. Options such as treating wastewater need to be seriously considered.
A 2018 research paper by Motu concluded that New Zealand is not well-prepared to cope with more drought, and that future droughts may well be the climate change impact with the most significant effect on the New Zealand economy.
It is well overdue for our civic leaders to listen up to the climate scientists and act.