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Population growth prompts water rethink

24 June 2004

Population growth prompts water rethink

High population growth could see the bulk water supply system for Hutt, Porirua, Upper Hutt and Wellington reach capacity years earlier than previously expected. Greater Wellington Regional Council supplies bulk water to the cities from several rivers and the Hutt aquifer.

A report to Greater Wellington’s Utility Services Committee this week noted that the combined population of the four urban areas had increased at the high end of expectations for several years. The rate of population growth is expected to slow, but if it doesn’t the existing water assets might not meet the target level for reliability of supply as early as 2007.

Dick Werry, Chairman of the Utility Services Committee, said this didn’t represent an immediate problem but did signal a need to review options.

“Even with high growth we won’t run out of water in 2007, but the risk of not meeting all demand would rise above the level agreed with the cities. To overcome this we can either build new capacity or do more to reduce water use: we’re considering both possibilities.”

Not having enough water to meet all demands is most likely to happen as a result of a long dry period during summer. The amount of water that can be taken from rivers is severely reduced by a drought, while water use can be 50 percent more than in winter, primarily due to garden watering.

Greater Wellington has budgeted for expansion of its system in the next few years, but also wants to look at a more comprehensive approach to managing demand for water within the current system’s limits, Councillor Werry said.

“It’s a good wake up call for the region to consider the way we manage water. Australian cities have lower levels of per capita water use than we do, through greater emphasis on conservation. We think that approach is worth considering.”

Councillor Werry also emphasised the importance of a co-operative approach with the Greater Wellington’s water supply customers – the four city councils. “New conservation measures will only work if there’s general agreement that they’re worthwhile and appropriate for our region. Providing drinking water is a role we share with city councils, so it makes sense to work together. We’ll achieve much more co-operatively than we can individually.”

Auckland has a co-operative water management strategy and Greater Wellington intends to investigate whether there is support from Hutt, Porirua, Upper Hutt and Wellington city councils for a similar initiative here.

Greater Wellington’s sustainable yield modelling shows that it should be able to supply a population of up to 377,000 at current water use levels in all but the most severe droughts (droughts of severity that would only be expected once in 50 years on average). The population was estimated to be 363,400 at 30 June 2003, but had increased by over 10,000 since June 2000. The next population estimate update is expected from Statistics New Zealand in November 2004.


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