Desperation in district as big dry turns to drought

Milk tankers arrive in Wellsford and Helensville to increase water supply.

Greg Sayers visits the fill station at the Wellsford water reservoir.

Volunteers from Auckland Council emergency management team fill containers at Warkworth Town Hall

Fleets of sanitised milk tankers have arrived in north Rodney to help reduce wait times for water tanker deliveries.

An emergency response was triggered last week after Councillor Greg Sayers and Local Board member Beth Houlbrooke held meetings with Council and Watercare to emphasise the need.

30,000 litre bulk tankers have been arriving at the Wellsford reservoir fill station to provide a second source for water delivery companies to fill their trucks.

Councillor Sayers says 276,000 litres of additional water were delivered on the first day, on Saturday, February 15.

“It is going to take a while, but tanker drivers are starting to get ahead on delivery demands,” councillor Sayers says.

Although the extra supply has increased water distribution capacity, open hours of fill stations have also been reduced, somewhat dampening the effectiveness of response.

Councillor Sayers points out that the reservoirs have had to cope with significantly increased demand and the extra water delivered by milk tankers has taken some of the pressure off with water being supplied from central Auckland.

He is working with Council, Civil Defence and Watercare to create a new drought plan to ensure a more effective response in case of future droughts.

Residents on water tanks from Puhoi to Mangawhai have been facing 8 weeks without water as drought conditions choke the district.

Although many have bores, some rural schools which depend on water tanks for drinking and flushing toilets may face closure if they run out.

Community events including the annual children’s fun day in Centennial Park in Wellsford have been cancelled citing ‘hardship on the rural community.”

Residents without flushing toilets have been forced to dig holes in their backyard while those without showers have had to bathe their babies in untreated bore water.

There have been reports across the district of water theft with thieves siphoning tanks.

Meanwhile farmers have been culling stock, purchasing feed and switching to once-a-day milking.

Last week, agriculture minister Damien O’Connor declared the drought an ‘adverse event,’ unlocking $80,000 in funding provided to Northland Rural Support Trust.

Inland Revenue is also allowing farmers to make late deposits and early withdrawal from the income equalisation scheme on a discretionary basis.

Of the five water carriers that Mahurangi Matters consulted, all had stopped taking orders due to unprecedented demand and had long lists of people who were totally without water.

Artesian Solway water in Warkworth is fully booked until mid-April and has a further 150 households on their waitlist awaiting a gap in case of a cancellation.

Co-owner Christine Walker says she knows at least 30 of them have no water at all, and more are running out each day.

“This is the worst dry I have ever seen.”

She says some households have been so desperate they have offered to pay triple the usual price for a water delivery.

“We won’t do it. We have to keep our morals and ethics in a crisis like this.”

Rhodes for Roads is doing 20 water deliveries per day but is fully booked and has a waitlist of 40.

Rhodes’ administrator Teri Ryder says the phone doesn’t stop ringing all day.

“When people in Puhoi, Ahuroa and Kaipara Flats are out of water, we know the situation is bad because they are experienced. It’s not a case of them forgetting to check their tanks.”

Last week Auckland Council initiated a multiphase emergency response including opening the Warkworth Town Hall and Wellsford Community Centre as fill points for domestic containers, as well as the distribution of 10,000L tanks to locations across the district.

According to Watercare, tankers drew 85 million litres in January from stations throughout Auckland – enough for 8,500 deliveries.

This month Watercare had to temporarily shut the Wellsford filling station after it had drawn 30% of the local water supply.

“The town’s reservoirs cannot keep up with such demand,” Watercare says.

An emergency response was triggered after Rodney Councillor Greg Sayers appealed to Watercare, Civil Defence and Auckland Council to coordinate solution to find water for those facing more than a month’s wait for delivery.

There was some initial reluctance on behalf of Watercare to take responsibility for finding a solution to the water crisis.

Watercare chief executive Raveen Jaduram said in an email to Councillor Sayers that water tank owners were facing a crisis as a result of failure to order water.

“Unfortunately, many are reluctant to place orders for commercial water delivery, living in the hope that it will rain soon. Delaying the decision to order results in demand that tank water suppliers cannot meet and a waiting period eventuates,” Mr Jaduram wrote.

So far, no restrictions on residential water take have been put in place in urban Auckland.

In contrast, Northland Regional Council has enforced the highest-level restriction in the far north while the Kaipara District Council has placed restrictions in Dargaville.

According to Watercare, on Tuesday, February 4, Aucklanders set a new record using 561 million litres in one day – well above the January daily average of 440 million litres.

Head of water value Roseline Klein says Watercare is running a campaign encouraging Aucklanders to reduce their showers from 8 minutes to 4 minutes which would save the city 80 million litres a day.

Auckland mayor Phil Goff says “water is a precious resource that shouldn’t be wasted. This weekend, I’ll be doing my bit by filling a bucket to wash my car rather than using the hose.”

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