Environment Minister David Parker has today “called in” Auckland’s application to the Waikato Regional Council to take an extra 200 million litres of water a day from the lower reaches of the Waikato River for Auckland drinking water and other municipal uses.
The call-in means the application has been referred to a Board of Inquiry under Part 6AA of the Resource Management Act 1991.
“The future sources of drinking water for Auckland are a matter of national significance. The application obviously affects Auckland, but also other activities in the Waikato and the river itself,” David Parker said.
‘The Inquiry will need to consider the viability of alternatives, including the treatment of storm and/ or waste water. Water taken for Auckland from the Waikato already includes treated water from outfalls from storm water and treated waste water upstream of its take.
“The Board of Inquiry of three people will be led by a current or retired Environment Court judge.
“I have asked the Waikato River Authority to name an appointee to the Board of Inquiry, which it is entitled to do under section 29(5) of the Waikato-Tainui Raupatu Claims (Waikato River) Settlement Act 2010.”
The Government, Waikato Regional Council and Hamilton City Council have been working with Auckland and other interested parties over several months to help resolve Auckland’s water issues.
Auckland City’s municipal water is managed by its subsidiary, Watercare Services Limited.
Watercare have had a consent to take 150 million litres a day (MLD) from the Waikato River since 1998. As a result of progressive upgrades to their infrastructure the full 150 MLD has been able to be used since 2019.
Per capita water usage in Auckland has decreased as a consequence of good management including water metering. Despite this, total water consumption is increasing through population growth.
The application for 200 million litres was filed seven years ago, with the expectation that the additional water would be needed from about 2030. The application has not yet been heard. There are competing claims to limited additional water available in summer months. Some competing claims for water, including renewals, rank earlier in time under the first-in-first-served principle under the RMA.
This year’s drought has caused low inflows into Auckland’s reservoirs, which earlier this year had dropped to 45 per cent of capacity, much lower than the 80 per cent full historic average for this time of year. Although recent rain has increased storage levels to 55 per cent, concerns remain that next summer there could be a water storage if rainfall is low between now and then.
In the meantime:
- An additional 25 MLD of winter water (when flow in the river is higher) has been approved for use by Watercare.
- A temporary transfer of 25 MLD of summer water from an existing consent holder that is not currently using that allocation is being negotiated.
- Watercare are due to complete in August the upgrade to their facilities needed to utilise the 25 MLD. This will enable Auckland to reduce their draw down from their reservoirs by 25 MLD.
- Watercare is already utilising an additional 10 MLD through their existing infrastructure.
- A separate application has been filed for 100 MLD of winter water (when flow in the river is higher). This is being considered by the Waikato Regional Council. It is likely to be accommodated within the minimum flow without infringing permits held by others. Watercare cannot build the plant needed to take and process this water until the middle of 2021, but could draw down its reservoirs more next summer if it has some security that this water will be available. An answer on it is expected soon. This application has not been called in by Environment Minister David Parker at this stage. If this application is granted, the called-in application for 200 MLD is expected to be modified.
- Watercare is taking the following other steps to augment its supplies:
- Hickey Springs bore, Pukekohe – 2.5MLD by August and another 2.5MLD by December
- Hays Creek, Papakura – 6 MLD by August 2020
- Onehunga expansion – 4 MLD by September 2020
- Auckland City is making it easier for its residents to install rainwater tanks to catch and use water.