The Big Dry

by Helen Martin

Volunteer Maori Warden Matorora Smith helping distribute water through the Council scheme.

While people are dealing with devastating floods down south, Niwa recorded the longest dry spell in the north on record - 40 days without rain - on Saturday 15 February. Those living in Helensville’s township are on town supply, which uses bore water pumped into reservoirs, and are so far affected only in that they need to be mindful of how much water they use. According to a report by Rodney Boar Chair Phelan Pirrie there is currently “no shortage of water for the main Auckland urban supply … and Watercare has not had to impose the bans seen in the past because it has ensured a robust storage network.” Bores are also the main water source for cattle farmers but, without rain for feed, many are having to buy in extra feed and, in some cases, sell some of their animals.
For those of us who live further out and rely on tank water things can get pretty dire during what’s being called this ‘severe meteorological drought’ - I know of one woman who’s spent the last six weeks staying in town because her tanks are dry and the water carriers haven’t been able to get to her yet. Phelan explains “There is an issue with how quickly carriers have been able to deliver because the demand suddenly spiked for filling station supply as water carriers started working later and later. It affected the aquifers’ ability to fill the reservoirs quickly enough to maintain water pressure for fire hydrants. Because there is normally negligible use overnight the steady flow of the bore supply topped the reservoirs off, however with tankers drawing off water until late at night this wasn’t able to happen. In response to the dropin pressure on water mains Watercare limited or shut off flow to these to filling stations which slowed down the speed that carriers could deliver water.” While people have been saying that Watercare should be more directly involved in rural water supply, Phelan advises that this needs to be considered carefully. “This will come at a cost and currently, rural ratepayers do not pay anything towards Watercare’s infrastructure (apart from the $15 per 10,000 litres water carriers pay if you use their service). Any move to guarantee supply will involve us all paying a contribution towards Watercare’s infrastructure just like households paying $20,000 to hook up to the supply in urban areas.”
Thankfully, Auckland Council opened on-tap contingency water supplies in Helensville, and for many days we’ve seen Council employees and Mâori Warden volunteers, whose participation is part of their Emergency Response work, stationed outside the library to assist people in filling water containers (with an allowance of 20L per person). Individuals living in town have also helped with offers of showers, clothes washing and container filling via Facebook and water has also been made available at Helensville Museum and the scout hall.

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