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Solutions Being Worked On For Auckland’s Water Supply

Waikato Regional Council is working with Watercare to find solutions to Auckland’s water shortage issues that mean existing and developing infrastructure for supply are fully used.

That includes processing getting underway on a new and separate water take application received from Watercare last week.

Waikato Regional Council chair Russ Rimmington has today responded to calls for Watercare’s consent application lodged in 2013 to be moved ahead of others. “I have sympathy for Aucklanders impacted by this water supply issue brought about by an especially long dry spell. But people who have asked first should have their application dealt with first.

“Legally Waikato Regional Council is not allowed to process Watercare’s application until it gets to the front of the queue. This includes resolving any court appeals with all those applications that are ahead of it. This obviously takes years under the current Resource Management Act (RMA) processes,” Cr Rimmington said.

“For many years this council has advocated to successive governments improvements to the current first in-first served system, without any success. This crisis will no doubt bring attention to the shortcomings of the RMA.

“I understand regional council staff are working hard with Watercare to find solutions in the interim. But the reality is that Watercare is only now getting close to being able to treat the extra 25 million litres per day of water it was granted by this council three years ago,” Cr Rimmington said.

Variation 6 to the Waikato Regional Plan was released in 2012 and it has rules for managing the allocation of water in the Waikato region in a way that achieves national policy expectations. The rules are aimed at ensuring there is enough water to protect aquatic life and provide for recreation and electricity generation, while also meeting domestic, municipal, agricultural, cultural and industrial needs as far as possible.

Watercare’s 2013 application to take 200 million litres per day of water from the Waikato River is to provide for future growth in the Auckland area. This is in addition to the existing consent Watercare holds to take 150 million litres per day (MLD) from the river.

Waikato Regional Council resource use director, Chris McLay, explained that the application has not yet been processed as “collectively all the applications we have received to take water from the Waikato River cause the river to be over-allocated during the months of October to April when there is low flow in the river”.

“In such situations we are obliged under the RMA to process applications on a first-in, first-served basis. Decisions on other applications lodged prior to Watercare’s 2013 application need to be made first to determine the allocation status for the Watercare application.

“This ensures a fair and transparent process for the allocation of a critically important resource,” he said.

In addition, there are water users who have existing consents that, when they come up for expiry, are often replaced and there are provisions within the RMA that the council must take into account in relation to those applicants as well. These queued “new” applications and replacement applications are referred to collectively as the ‘Waikato River Deferral Queue’.

Currently there are 382 applications in the Waikato River Deferral Queue. The Watercare 2013 application is at number 96. “The time to process each application can vary widely due to factors often outside our control. That’s things such as the need for further information to be provided or applications to be refined to ensure water is being allocated sustainably and efficiently, public notification and hearings being required and dealing with any objections or appeals to the courts,” Mr McLay explained.

Another separate and distinct application was lodged by Watercare last week to take a further 100 MLD from the Waikato River. This new application will enable Watercare to meet demand growth in the short to medium term and, if successful, will form an enduring component of its future water supply network.

The difference between the 2013 application and last week’s application is when their proposed abstraction of water occurs. The 2013 application seeks to take water across all months of the year, including when river flows are lower. The new application also seeks to take water during the period of October to April, but only during this period when it is above median flow and there is ample water in the river. The new application would also provide for 100 MLD during the months of May to September when there is no water allocation pressure.

Like a Watercare application granted in 2017, last week’s application can be processed outside the Waikato River Deferral Queue as the proposal is to take water during a period of higher flow when there is no allocation pressure.

“We are acutely aware of the water shortage issues, and that’s why we’ve been maintaining regular contact with Watercare to ensure we provide as best we can for Auckland’s more short-term needs.

“This includes staff from both organisations working collaboratively on solutions to ensure existing and developing infrastructure for water supply from the Waikato are able to be optimised.

“It’s our expectation this latest application will be processed over the coming couple of months. With this consent in place, I understand Watercare can get underway with designing and constructing further infrastructure to be able to deliver this water to Auckland,” Mr McLay said.

BACKGROUND:

In 2017 another consent was granted by Waikato Regional Council which allows Watercare to take a further 25 MLD from the Waikato River when the flow is above its annual median level. In practice, this means that 25 MLD can be taken anytime from May to September, and at times during the October to April period when there is higher flow.

Watercare is just completing a three-year infrastructure extension to utilise this 25 MLD. Once finished, it means the treatment plant at Tuakau will have the ability to treat and deliver 175 MLD of water from the Waikato River to Auckland when river flows are higher. Watercare and Waikato Regional Council are working together to identify options to ensure this treatment capacity can continue to be utilised during the October to April period.

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