Auckland needs to own its water problem

02 Jul 2020 Auckland needs to own its water problem image

Our urban water crisis has been coming for some time and is not just limited to Auckland.  Many other urban centres around New Zealand faced severe water shortages last summer.  This water crisis is no longer just a once in many years event.  It is the future.

The crazy fact is that we have lots of rain in New Zealand, but NIWA estimates that we only use 2% of our rainfall.  This begs the question: why aren’t we capturing more water when it rains to sustain our urban population through the ever-increasing dry spells?

Auckland now has approval to take much more water out of the Waikato River.  It will use this water to not only supply its residents but to fill its depleted dams at the rate of 100 million litres a day.  Auckland’s request for 200 million litres a day will go to a Board of Inquiry.  This is because to take this much water, other users of the water will need to give up some of their allocation.

Auckland’s water does not only go to humans, twenty-five percent of it also goes to industrial users*.  The proposition is that Waikato’s industrial users, growers and farmers in the Waikato will be required to give up their water for Auckland. 

This water reallocation is a significant wealth transfer from one area to another.  Why should Auckland’s industrial users be advantaged over Waikato’s just because Auckland has not constructed water capture and storage to meet its own needs?  This situation could also see water taken from Waikato vegetable growers who supply Auckland and other parts of New Zealand with healthy, locally-grown fresh food.  This region contributes more than 25% of New Zealand’s vegetable supply by value**.

Auckland’s water crisis is and will be repeated around the country.  Now is the time to address this and make sure that we capture and store more of the 98% of rainwater that we let run out to sea.  We cannot take water away from those who grow our food.  Similarly, we cannot take water away from one group of industrial users to give to another just because there was poor planning. 

If New Zealand’s economy is going to recover from Covid, we need to make sure that everyone and every user has enough water to sustain their operations.  We want to grow the horticulture sector to increase employment and foreign exchange earnings, while at the same time providing healthy food for all of New Zealand and achieving positive environmental outcomes.  But we cannot do that without water.

Building dams is one part of the solution.  What is also needed is some lateral thinking about equally effective water capture and storage.  Nature has natural dams and water tanks called aquifers.  Trials are taking place around the country where aquifers are being recharged during high rainfall so that during dry periods, streams and rivers continue to flow, and urban and rural users have access to water. 

There is also a point in every river below the high tide line where it is possible to take water that has in effect, already run out to sea without causing environmental issues. 

What we are good at in New Zealand is innovation.  Now is the time for us to be innovative with water capture and build new water schemes that will supply us all with the water that we need, now and in future. 

It is not the time to give advantage to cities that have not done their planning.  So, what is Auckland doing apart from wanting to take water away from growers, farmers and industrial users in the Waikato to solve Auckland’s water crisis?  Auckland’s Mayor has talked about putting water back into the Waikato to help clean it up.  With respect, that misses the point completely. 

Where is your water plan, Auckland? One that does not disadvantage the Waikato and growers of your healthy food.

Mike Chapman, Chief Executive


*Auckland water efficiency strategy 2017 to 2020, Watercare.
**New Zealand’s Food Story The Pukekohe Hub, Deloitte.