No time for complacency

Published on 12 March 2020

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You may have seen large ‘Save water now’ signs posted prominently along key roads in your town over the past week. These restate our key water conservation messages and ask everyone to focus efforts on saving water in the bathroom and laundry: turn taps off, wash full loads, flush less often, and take shorter showers.

Following the rain many received over the past few days, it may be thought that these signs are ‘too little, too late’. I don’t agree. Now is the perfect time to remind all residents and visitors that we continue to face critical water shortages right across the district. While the rain was certainly welcome, especially for those on tank water supplies, it was far from drought-breaking. Only recently, flows in many of our key waterways were recorded at their lowest levels in 50 years. We need far more than 10 millimetres of rain to turn that around.

If you travel across the district, it quickly becomes obvious how seriously this drought is impacting our whenua. In the southern and eastern areas, the hills have turned a little greener since last week’s rain. But around Kaitaia and further north, the hills remain seriously parched. The rain we did receive was patchy at best and if people become complacent about conserving water this could even work against us. Readings from our most at-risk waterways show how dangerous this would be. Flows in the Wairoro Stream, which supplies Kaikohe, are dropping again after receiving some relief from the rain. The same is true for the Tirohanga Stream in Kawakawa, and Kaitaia’s Awanui River. Until our water levels turnaround, water conservation efforts must continue.

Last week, I told you about progress we are making to provide two supplementary water supplies for Kaitaia. This work is progressing well, and we are on track to tap into these water sources by the middle of the month.

We are also making solid progress on supplementary supplies for Kaikohe. We announced a deal last week with Lake Omapere Trust to take 1500 cubic metres of water a day from Lake Omapere. The Omapere Taraire E Rangihamama X3A Ahuwhenua Trust has also provided permission to pipe the water over their land to our Taraire Hills Water Treatment Plant. Our remaining obstacle is the danger of a toxic algal bloom in the lake. This can be very difficult to treat, and we are now working closely with Northland District Health Board on ways to reconfigure our plant to effectively treat the lake water. In the meantime, we are also investigating other water sources for Kaikohe and I will let you know about these as soon as details are confirmed.

Traditionally, autumn is the driest period of the year in the Far North. If that holds true this year, this drought is unlikely to end with a sudden deluge. Instead, we may climb out of this shortage over weeks and months. That’s why our roadside signs are important. They remind us that this drought is far from over.