Water not endless resource

01:46, Feb 05 2013

Waikato people can learn from cities like Las Vegas, which - along with dozens of other American cities - suck so much water from the once-mighty Colorado River it often can't reach the sea.

In the past decade the Southern Nevada Water Authority cracked down on wasteful landscaping, levying surcharges on golf courses that exceed tight water budgets, for example.

It has banned grass lawns in the front yards of all new homes and restricted grass to 50 per cent of backyard landscaping. Home owners are paid a $US1.50 rebate for every square foot of a conventional lawn they dig up and replace with desert landscaping.

This makes sense for communities built in a desert. But Waikato can't afford to ignore the lessons in water conservation learned there just because we are blessed with a much greater annual average rainfall.

Hamilton City Council's water manager, Tim Harty, said as much last month when harsher water restrictions took effect for Hamilton city and in the Waikato and Waipa districts.

Local authorities were trying to get people to start thinking about the fact it's not an endless resource, he said. "It's finite and takes time and effort and money to produce water, so we should look after it and not waste it."

Mr Harty was sounding a caution. People coming back from holidays could wash and clean their boats, for example, but they should be mindful about how they did it, they should use a full load when washing clothes or dishes, and they should water their gardens by holding hoses, not by turning on sprinklers and forgetting about it.

Alas, waterways in some parts of the region since then have come close to or dropped below minimum flows where restrictions are needed to protect aquatic life and ensure enough water is available for essential uses.

Civic authorities have responded by considering harsher measures, causing home-owners to fret about their gardens. Those who take pride in their shrubs, flowers and lawns foresee the browning of greenery in which they have invested significant money. But the drought eventually will break, the restrictions will be lifted and people will return to splashing water lavishly around. Whether some restrictions should remain is a question worth serious consideration.