OPINION: Aucklanders can take twice as much water from the Waikato River and the dams are fuller than they’ve been for many summers. But the reminder we can’t take water for granted might come sooner than we think.
The alarm of the recent drought, and the previous summer’s unprecedented restrictions, are behind us and the medium-term of the city’s supply is sorted.
But the 20-year river boost, granted by a board of inquiry under a process fast-tracked due to the drought, really only buys Auckland time to have a serious think about how we use water.
Is our long hot summer going to end in a traditional wet season, or will it roll on to be a repeat of the drought of 2020-21?
* Auckland given green light to take 300m litres of water a day from Waikato River
* Auckland water shortage: Council lifts restrictions after 17 months as dams fill
* Auckland drought: How just thinking about water made the difference
MetService data showed January 23’s rainfall at Auckland Airport came just one day short of the 38-day no-rainfall record set in January 2020, as the drought was brewing.
Aucklanders in the past week used a daily average of 495 million litres a day, around 10 per cent more than 12 months earlier when drought-induced restrictions were in place.
It is an improvement on the summer before the 2020 drought restrictions, when consumption peaked at a record 550 million litres.
Making our water supply more sustainable is akin to climate change action. If we want to be in a better position in 10 or 20 years time, we need to start acting now.
If we were managing with 10 per cent less a year ago, what has changed, other than perhaps thinking about water.
Some action will require political change, rules more easily allowing, or even requiring, domestic grey-water tanks on new-built homes, to capture rainwater for toilet and laundry use.
Population growth will eventually demand further new sources, and the latest dip deeper into the Waikato River will be the last.
Big, expensive sources may need to be considered.
Auckland’s mayor and councillors had their eye off the water ball for too long, and while swift action got us through the drought, it was not something to be proud of.
The drafting of a proper Water Strategy had slid off the radar, and the political oversight of the council’s well-regarded company Watercare had drifted.
Mayor Phil Goff, in welcoming the granting of the additional consent, pointed to the $225 million the city had already spent in boosting supply from other sources.
The need for the costly drought response was not due to an unforeseen act of god, but partly due to the decommissioning of smaller water supplies.
The spending pushed up water charges sharply, and at a time when the council’s finances were feeling the squeeze from Covid-19, diverted the ability to borrow, from other areas.
It seems certain the council will lose direct control and ownership of its water operation, into an Upper North Island mega-provider under the government’s Three Waters reforms.
The Government will push ahead with Three Waters reform despite considerable opposition. Video first published October 27, 2021.
The accountability through direct political ownership, that many fear will be lost in the new nationwide water reforms, had not always worked well in Auckland anyway.
Ultimately, the job of treating water as the precious resource that it is, will remain with Aucklanders themselves.
However the new organisation which will manage Auckland’s water future looks, it will be the individual decisions we all make whenever we reach for the tap, which will make the difference in long run.