Andrew Dickens: Watercare has done little to prepare for Auckland's drought woes

Author
Andrew Dickens,
Publish Date
Fri, 26 Jun 2020, 4:25PM
Wairoa dam in Auckland is running dry. (Photo / AP)

Andrew Dickens: Watercare has done little to prepare for Auckland's drought woes

Author
Andrew Dickens,
Publish Date
Fri, 26 Jun 2020, 4:25PM

My heart goes out to the rest of the country who, day after day and year after year, hear about the problems of our largest city.

Auckland is an indecisive problem child.  Like a teenager in a growth spurt who refuses to buy new clothes until its pants are halfway up its shins and its tummy pokes out from under the shirt.

It’s a city without a plan, making it up as it goes along.

It runs out of power. Like an old man on the verge of a heart attack, its arteries are clogged. Its toilets run into the sea.  It doesn’t have enough rooves.

The latest soap opera is that it’s running out of water. Now this is because of one of the biggest droughts in history, but droughts happen and this latest crisis is showing how unprepared the city was.

I say this because it happened before in 1994. The experience broke the morale of the Watercare staff who became desperate for this sort of thing to never happen again so they made some plans.

I know this because Tony Holman was the chairman at the time and he’s written about it this week.

Faced with securing supply they looked at a range of ideas including tapping aquifers in Onehunga and the fresh water under Rangitoto, building two new dams in the Hunuas or taking water from the Waikato.

The dams didn’t make it.  Even though dams provide much higher water quality and much cheaper processing.  They’re just hard to make happen.  There’s always greenies and locals who object, and to me that was a gigantic pity.

So they went for the Waikato water option.  Even though it is far, far more expensive to process to get the bugs out the water has collected from Taupo through Cambridge and Hamilton and hundreds of thousands of cows. 

It also meant that the Waikato Regional Council and Tainui had a stake in the water of Auckland. 

The pipe was put in and the processing plant was built and that was that.

That was 1995, 25 years ago. In 1995 the population was just over 1 million. Auckland now has nearly 700,000 more mouths. It’s been called a SuperCity and it’s had a tsunami of immigration and births. The city is a whole lot thirstier.

But there’s been little improvement in supply and management of Auckland’s water in the past quarter century. 

Auckland’s pipes leak.  They reckon 15% of the expensive processed water spills out of badly maintained pipe.

Waikato put water restrictions in last year. Auckland last month.Well done Waikato. Boo hiss Auckland.

The Waikato processing plant hasn’t been expanded.  The reason being why expand it if you haven’t got permission to draw the water.  How about, so you are ready to draw water when you need to, and it’s never cheaper than right now.

To put that in perspective, if the Waikato Regional Council and Tainui gave Auckland permission to draw more water tomorrow Auckland wouldn’t get a single extra drop for years, when they need it now. The Tainui delegation yesterday are very supportive of Auckland but chided the city for not finding other options since the pipe went in.

Now we hear Watercare is recommissioning a Hunua dam it decommissioned in 2005. Might have been wise to keep that one on tap.

The whole sorry story since 1995 looks like Watercare lurches from one knee jerk decision to another, spending as little money as it can and totally ignoring the future.