Selecting the best water options for us all

Published on 04 June 2020

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You could be forgiven for thinking we are no longer in a drought. Our hillsides appear greener, and our water tanks have recharged. But other indicators tell a different story. Water levels in key waterways remain stubbornly low for this time of year. They rise immediately after rain but fall again just as quickly below minimum levels set by Northland Regional Council. In some parts, soil moisture levels are also well below where they should be in June.

Over the long weekend, we received the first significant rain we have seen in many months. Some on the east coast were especially lucky – up to 150mm of rain fell around Kaeo. Unfortunately, much less was received in the far Far North, the mid-north and parts of the west coast. These are the areas that have been most seriously affected by the drought. They need steady rain over days and weeks to soak parched soils, and to recharge their waterways.

You only need to look south to see further impacts of the drought. Whangarei District now has Level 3 water restrictions operating because dam, river and groundwater levels are at record lows. Kaipara District has Level 4 restrictions in place across its water supplies and Auckland City has imposed restrictions banning the use of outdoor hoses and water-blasters. Its dams are at about 45 per cent full. They should be at 76 per cent.

At the height of the drought in the Far North, numerous landowners offered the Council access to groundwater supplies they hoped may prevent Kaitaia running out of water. Most asked for little in return and I want to thank them for their sense of community and generosity. We were looking for consented supplies, close to Kaitaia, that could provide adequate volumes of water. We investigated several options. This included using Fonterra milk tankers to truck bore water to our treatment plant. We looked at building pipelines of 15km or more and running power supplies to remote sites. In the end, an offer from Te Rarawa and Ngāi Takoto was the best and quickest solution. Te Rarawa offered us access to a consented bore that could supply the volume of water we needed. Ngāi Takoto sealed the deal by allowing us to build a 4km pipe across their land to our Kaitaia water treatment plant.

Our contractors did an amazing job laying the pipe in just weeks and ensuring the system met stringent New Zealand Drinking Water Standards. We began supplying Kaitaia with bore water blended with water from the Awanui River on 23 March. In all, the project has cost $1,071,944, the majority of which was spent on infrastructure. Only a small proportion was allocated to compensation.

Te Rarawa and Ngāi Takoto understood the community need and provided us with a viable and speedy solution, and I am hugely grateful for their help. We are now working on projects to permanently solve water shortages for both Kaitaia and Kaikohe. I will keep you posted on progress.