Update on Auckland’s water strategy
Watercare, New Zealand’s largest company in the water and wastewater industry and a Council Controlled Organisation, has been extremely good at supplying drinking water of a very high standard to people across Auckland. The amalgamation of Auckland’s former councils into the Supercity standardised systems and controls with the benefits of efficiencies at scale. It put Watercare on a path of planning for growth but with a corresponding increase in water consumption which didn’t create the right incentives to encourage water savings or alternative sources of water supply such as rain tanks.
As Aucklanders have demonstrated in the last year in response to the severe drought, we are in fact collectively capable of saving tens of millions of litres of water a day without affecting the quality of our take. Since restrictions were introduced in May 2020, Aucklanders have saved about 15 billion litres of water. In a climate emergency we must be as ambitious as possible in lowering per-capita demand for water to manage against the increased risk of water insecurity.
Amalgamation in 2010 also meant we lost the best of what former council’s were achieving with best practice water savings. The former Waitakere City Council’s Water Strategy was all about reducing water use, rolling out water tanks, rewarding low use homes, supporting innovation and holding Watercare to account to invest in infrastructure to ensure reduced water use. However there’s now been a significant step forward in the demand management aspect of a new council water strategy 2021 – 2050, which aims to protect and enhance te mauri o te wai/the life supporting capacity of water, to create a future of water security for Tāmaki Makaurau. Auckland Council and Watercare have jointly committed to adopting ambitious targets designed to reduce Aucklanders’ use of drinking water by 20 per cent over the next 30 years to create a city more resilient to impacts of drought and climate change. One of the key principles used to develop the long-term water usage targets was ensuring we didn’t use water pricing as a lever to reduce customer demand. Instead, the aim is to educate people and create a more efficient and smarter system that allows for new technologies over time and which lead to behaviour change.
Demand management is just one aspect of council’s water strategy 2021 – 2050, which will cover stormwater, wastewater and freshwater networks and is designed to operate in tandem with infrastructure investment, including securing alternative drinking water sources for the long term. Technology is a key component of the council group’s water demand management strategy, which includes installing smart meters in all homes by 2034, and investing in a smart, efficient network to monitor and keep leakage to no more than 13 per cent. In signing off on the new water consumption targets at the April Environment and Climate Change Committee we confirmed support for Watercare’s commitment to aim for no more than 11 per cent leakage.
Empowering Aucklanders to manage their demand for water takes a values-based approach to water management. The need for water consumption targets to drive reduced water use per capita is in recognition of Aucklanders’ desire to treasure water/wai as a taonga as the region grows.