Formerly New Zealand's High Commissioner to the Cook Islands and MP for the Northland Electorate of New Zealand.


Moving forward together

Thursday 15 November 2018

Every drop is precious

This week you may have heard about devastating wild fires sweeping across California - the deadliest in its history. Unusually strong winds and drought conditions over summer are being blamed for these lethal blazes. As our own summer heats up, NIWA weather forecasters are predicting that an El Nino weather pattern is likely over coming months. In Northland, this could mean above average temperatures and lower than normal rainfall.

his may be welcome news for those of us planning to join friends and family for a long, golden summer. For others, however, the NIWA predictions will be worrying. Our farmers will be concerned about how prolonged, dry weather will affect pastures, crops and livestock, while our fire services will be nervous about increased fire risks El Nino will bring. At Council, we will be closely monitoring river and aquifer levels ahead of Christmas and New Year.

his is when our population traditionally soars and demand for water is at its highest.

Every summer we ask residents connected to Council supplies to conserve water. Depending on rainfall, we may also apply water restrictions. Water restrictions range from banning outside automatic sprinklers and unattended hoses to our toughest Level 4 restrictions that ban all outside water use.

Only drinking, cooking, showering and laundry water-use is permitted. No one can predict what river, stream and aquifer levels will be like in coming months, but we do know that getting into the habit of conserving water now will reduce the demands we place on these precious resources. This will delay the need for water restrictions and may avoid them altogether.

Providing safe drinking water is a complex and increasingly costly task for all local authorities. In the Far North this is complicated by the fact we operate eight separate water treatment plants that deliver drinking water to around 25,000 residents (we also supply non-drinking water in Russell). Of these, Opononi and Rawene serve less than a 1000 residents, and Okaihau serves less than 500.

In the wake of the 2016 Havelock North water contamination incident that made over 5000 people ill, New Zealand water providers have come under pressure to meet tough drinking water standards. I’m happy to say all but one of our water supplies comply with the New Zealand Drinking Water Standards, and plans are already well advanced to upgrade the Omanaia plant.

Unfortunately, some private suppliers have struggled to meet extra costs. Since 2016, two private schemes in the Far North have announced closure. A supply to about 80 households and businesses in Waipapa was shut last year and 23 customers of a private provider in Kaeo face losing their supply later this month. We are working with the operator, Wai Care, and Northland District Health Board on alternative options and hope to announce a solution soon.

Like many of you, I’m looking forward to a long, hot summer. I’m also hoping for rain from time to time.



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