My Column - Moving forward together

20 February 2020

Positive news for Kaitaia

I was very pleased to see Kaitaia residents had achieved significant water savings of 11.25 per cent last week. This shows the community understands the seriousness of the current drought and how this is impacting our water sources. Thank you Kaitaia for working hard to conserve this precious resource, and according to our latest figures, we are on track to equal or surpass those savings again this week.

I also have good news to share. Last week, the Council signed an agreement to take water from an aquifer bore that will allow us to remove bulk water carriers from the town supply during this drought. Bulk water carriers provide a vital service to our rural and remote residents who rely on rain water tanks for all their domestic water needs. This drought has seen many tanks run dry and for most of these residents, the Council’s treated water supplies are the only alternative source. Demand has risen dramatically. In January we provided 1,444 cubic metres of water to bulk water carriers compared to just 80 cubic metres in September. Currently, bulk water carriers account for around 7 per cent of the treated water we produce for Kaitaia.

The bore we have accessed is about 8km west of Awanui and contractors have started building a pipeline to a roadside access point. To get this supply up and running as quickly as possible, the Council is borrowing a portable water treatment plant from Watercare in Auckland. This will ensure the water we supply meets all applicable health standards. We aim to supply water from the bore in about three weeks relieving pressure on Kaitaia’s primary water source, the Awanui River.

This is just the beginning of efforts to find supplementary supplies for Kaitaia. We are talking to the owner of another bore that has the potential to be a second supply for Kaitaia. Despite these efforts, flows in the Awanui River continue to drop and this waterway is now at record low levels. We partially dammed the river last week to ensure there is enough water at the treatment plant intake pipe so we can continue an uninterrupted supply of water.

This week we applied our highest water restrictions to Paihia-Opua-Waitangi and Kawakawa-Moerewa. These communities are now on Level 4 water restrictions, limiting water use to drinking, cooking and washing only. To have four water supplies operating under Level 4 restrictions demonstrates just how serious this drought is. The last 12-month period has been one of the driest on record and, according Civil Defence, many Northland rivers are at their lowest flows in 50 years.
We have had success in finding short-term and long-term supplementary water supplies, but the best way to avoid serious interruptions to your water supply is to conserve the water we already have. We need to achieve 25 per cent reductions across the district and we all need to play our part.


13 February 2020

Help save water

Most Northland Age readers will be aware that there is a severe drought in the Far North: the worst in a long time. Water shortages are especially acute in Kaitaia and Kaikohe and we introduced Level 4 water restrictions in these towns last week. We are working hard and fast to find temporary water sources to supplement the Awanui River and Wairoro Stream, which are the main water sources for these towns. However, there is still a risk we will run out of water in these towns, particularly if people don’t make the 25 per cent water savings we are asking for. We hope to avoid this worst-case scenario and are following promising leads for supplementary water supplies for Kaikohe and Kaitaia.

In the long term, we plan to make the Aupouri aquifer a permanent water source and we are committed to completing this project next year. Many of you will say this project has been delayed for far too long and many will be disappointed we are facing these shortages. We accept that we could have prioritised this project for completion sooner. However, it is also important to remember that the whole of Northland is experiencing record-breaking weather conditions that our water supplies aren’t designed to cope with. We are also putting in place contingency plans as a proactive measure. Civil Defence Northland delivered three emergency water storage tanks to Kaikohe last week and tanks were installed near Te Ahu in Kaitaia on Tuesday.

We will only use these if we can no longer draw water from our usual sources and back-up sources are not available. Again, we hope it won’t be necessary to use these, but this will depend on whether households and businesses make meaningful reductions to their daily water use.

Sixty-five percent of the water used in the average New Zealand home is used in the bathroom, so we urge people to take shorter showers and to flush toilets less. You can also reduce water flushed by putting a full water bottle into the toilet cistern. If everyone made these small sacrifices, we would significantly improve our chances of getting through this drought without needing to resort to emergency measures. Please, if you haven’t already done so, think about what contribution your household or business can make to our water conservation campaign.

I am hearing comment about bulk water carriers taking water from town supplies. For Kaitaia, we are fast-tracking work on a temporary supply for Te Hiku bulk water carriers so they can tap into the Aupouri aquifer. We are also working on a similar solution for Kaikohe. This will allow bulk water carriers to refill the water tanks without having to transport water long distances from the east coast or put further pressure on our town supplies.

There is still time to avert a water crisis where the taps run dry, but this will depend on all of us playing our part.


6 February 2020

Conserving our precious water

The New Year is traditionally a time when the nation heads to the beach and there's little news to share. Not so this year. Our region has already recorded some major and exciting wins. These include the Government's recent announcement of a $109.7 million to upgrade the rail line from Auckland to Whangarei and plans to reopen the spur to Otiria in Moerewa. The upgrade will allow for a container terminal to be built at Whangarei, and this will be a catalyst for our agricultural, horticultural and forestry industries.

Another significant announcement from the Government was made last week adding an extra $12.7 million grant to last year's $18.5m funding package from the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF). This will further progress water storage projects in Kaikohe and Kaipara for our horticulture and industry. This is great news for the Kaikohe and whole region, and brings total funding for these projects to $31.2m.

As you know, our water supplies are under serious pressure right across the Far North with Level 4 water restrictions now in place for both Kaitaia and Kaikohe. This is an unprecedented situation and is due to the unusually dry winter we experienced in 2019. Northland Regional Council has confirmed it was the driest year in decades in many parts of Northland. This weather has continued with high temperatures and very little rainfall this summer. Unfortunately, forecasters are predicting this will continue for weeks or even months.

Some of you have asked how the Council has allowed this to happen. The simple answer is our water sources cope well in normal summer conditions, as do our treatment plants and other infrastructure. However, they were not designed for the record-breaking weather conditions we are now experiencing. Building water supplies to cope with extraordinary weather events is hugely expensive and your elected members have chosen to follow a more balanced planning approach.

Climate change means we need to reassess our plans and we are working with other Northland councils on ways to meet the challenges we now face in the years and decades to come. We are also working on solutions right now. For Kaitaia, we are pressing ahead with a project to make the Aupouri aquifer a supplementary water source for Kaitaia. We are committed to this project and plan to have it completed next year. We are fast-tracking a temporary supply for bulk water carriers so they can resupply water tanks for our rural residents in Te Hiku without travelling across the district. That supply should be operational within weeks. We have also completed work on a new water bore for our Opononi and Omapere. The Smoothy Road bore is now undergoing final tests and will begin supplying customers next week.

Without doubt we are facing very serious water shortages right across the district. The solution is rain, and plenty of it. Until that happens, we are asking everyone to help conserve the water supplies we have.

 

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