Auckland drought: Growing alarm about demand for water as dry conditions continue

RNZ
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The demand for water in Auckland is causing increasing concern, with one river at the lowest level it has been in nearly 40 years.

Water company Watercare said Auckland's water use is "skyrocketing" and people need to think before they turn their taps on.

Last week, previous water use records were broken three times, with the largest volume of 568 million litres used on February 19.

"The average daily use for February 2020 is higher than the peak demand record set in 2019: 535 million litres compared with 534 million litres," Watercare said.

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In Wellsford, Watercare said the level of the Hoteo River has fallen, with the company believing it is at its lowest level since 1983 when the area experienced its worst drought on record.

Wellsford's Hoteo River is believed to be at its lowest level since an extreme drought in 1983.
WATERCARE
Wellsford's Hoteo River is believed to be at its lowest level since an extreme drought in 1983.

Watercare head of water value Roseline Klein said it was exploring other water sources in the area to supplement the river if required.

"We are also continuing to support rural communities and suburbs on the outskirts of Auckland by supplying water through our tanker filling stations. Since the start of the year, over 211 million litres has been provided."

Klein said the extreme demand for water is putting pressure on water treatment plants and its networks.

Dead shrubs and heat-burnt grass surround Māngere Mountain during the drought.
JASON DORDAY/STUFF
Dead shrubs and heat-burnt grass surround Māngere Mountain during the drought.

"Almost all of our water treatment plants are working at maximum capacity 24/7 in order to treat and distribute water at a faster rate than its being used. This is challenging to sustain day-after-day.

"We have also changed the way we operate our treated water storage reservoirs to ensure there is more water stored in local suburbs in case of an unplanned outage at a treatment plant."

Klein said water is precious, especially in a drought.

The bold orange line shows the current demand for water.
WATERCARE
The bold orange line shows the current demand for water.

If people continue to use more and more water on hot days, restrictions may be introduced. 

It was hard to say when they might be introduced, she said, as it depends on the weather forecast and "hydrological situation".

"But the longer the drought goes on, the more likely it is," Klein said.

Niwa's Ben Noll said the drier than normal weather conditions would continue through the end of February and start of March.

The first week of March could bring showers, but nothing which looked like it would break the drought. 

Noll said the chances for rainfall could increase in the second week of March and beyond, due to a potential change in weather direction.

"It is still a ways out, so there is uncertainty in the pattern."

Watercare said MetService is predicting dry weather to continue for the next two weeks.

While the rain on Saturday and Sunday was welcomed, it made little difference to the city's total water storage, Klein said.

"In reality, the uplift in our water storage level only lasted 18 hours because of the rate that people are using water."

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