Recorded rainfall on Waiheke has been unusually low since October and water suppliers cannot keep up with demand.

Emergency meetings have taken place between the local board, Auckland Council and Waiheke’s under-pressure water supply industry to discuss dealing with the ongoing water shortage.

With supply struggling to match demand — and some companies now fully booked until mid February — water suppliers met with the board last Wednesday to help develop a communications strategy and to explore an increase in bore limits. On Friday, board chairman Paul Walden met council officers in the city.

“One of the things we explored on Wednesday is whether or not we can increase the quota for some of the companies if their bore can safely manage that,” board member John Meeuwsen says.

“We will explore the ability to make the quota system that each water supplier is dealing with more flexible because they’ve all got highly specific resource consents and that includes both the daily take and an annual take, which
complicates life.”

There are several issues at play in expanding the limits. If a water supplier withdraws too much water in three months, then they may face issues as they reach their annual limit later in the year. Technical issues would likely have to be resolved too – topography, rocks, soils, depth and nearby sea levels all play a role in forming the upper limits for the quota system.

Mr Walden says the council has begun to explore mechanisms to enable it to increase quotas for water carriers.

“This will mean that there will need to be a fairly close monitoring regime in place to ensure that the aquifers are not depleted but the council recognises that that’s an appropriate response and they are on to that,” he says.

“The council has appointed an officer to work with the water carriers, which is a good thing … It’s possible that there are some bores with a consenting issue where, with paperwork, they can get more water out. Those are the ones that we want to be targeting as the first cab off the rank.”

But even if increasing bore size is a possibility, it likely won’t be a fix-all solution. Waiheke Aquifers’ owner Jesse Ball – who holds the island’s largest bore quota of 300 cubic metres per day but which remains off limits following the autumn floods – says education on water conservation should still be top priority.

“Increasing the quotas is fine, but you can only increase the quotas and get so much water out of a bore due to the limitations of engineering,” he says.

“You’ve got a flow rate that the bore is rated for so, if you over-draw, the bore actually collapses on itself. You can’t say ‘oh, let’s just keep on going’. If you do that, eventually it will collapse and you won’t get any water.”

“There’s very little we can do other than promote positive water-saving messages. That’s pretty much it; we’re over a million litres a day short – probably somewhere around 1.2 million – so the only way to change that is for the whole population to make an effort.

“As an idea, asking tourists on the ferry to help conserve water, for example. That’s basically it, no matter how hard anybody works, there’s no way to change it. Unfortunately the problem is just too big.”

As a result, both the board and water companies will continue to promote and encourage water conservation as dry conditions continue.

Mr Meeuwsen says: “One of the things we’ll be doing in the next few days is bringing these tips and advice together and getting them out there – probably very often – because it’s so hard to get to the people who need the messages most.

“One of the things we agreed is that from now on we have to be more proactive about communicating what is going on and what advice we have for people.”

After Friday’s meeting, Mr Walden is clear where the responsibility lies.

“The reality is hitting home for homeowners that the responsibility for water supply on Waiheke rests with the homeowner. Council or central government doesn’t have any formal responsibility here unless there’s a significant health risk. We’re unlikely to reach that point because we do have adequate public spaces available where there’s drinking water,” he says.

“The reality is that people need to do their most to conserve water and find access to water elsewhere.”

Both Mr Walden and Mr Meeuwsen offered their thanks to water suppliers for their efforts in the past month.
• Richard Jones

Subscribe and read Gulf News and Waiheke Weekender Online