3 Dec 2018

Fears ease over Ōamaru's water shortage crisis

5:38 pm on 3 December 2018

Ōamaru's water supply may be normal soon, thanks in part to residents' response to cut their use.

water sprinkler garden hose

Ōamaru residents are being asked not to start watering again their gardens again as the town's reservoirs are still well off full capacity. Photo: 123RF

A North Otago town's water supply should be at full capacity by Friday, despite earlier fears residents could run out of treated water within days.

Ōamaru's reservoir was sitting at one fifth of its capacity after being inundated with murky water it couldn't treat quickly enough late last week.

While a 'conserve water' notice remains in place for about 15,000 residents until the end of the week, businesses returned to normal usage today.

It was a significant turnaround from the dire situation faced last Friday when there were serious concerns the town's water supply would run out within two days if restrictions weren't observed.

But Waitaki District Council assets group manager Neil Jorgensen said thanks to residents saving water and improving capacity at the water treatment plant, reservoir levels have returned to 60 percent.

"At the start of the event, the water treatment plant could only work at about half capacity due to the very dirty water. It was essentially like drinking a very thick milkshake through the membrane treatment system, it just couldn't get enough of the liquid through," Mr Jorgensen said.

At full capacity, the water treatment plant can treat between 20 to 24 million litres each day.

That was halved late last week, but it's since started treating closer to 13m litres. While that might not seem like a dramatic improvement, Mr Jorgensen said the plant was producing more water than residents were using, creating a surplus. On Sunday, residents used 8.5m litres of water.

At this rate, Mr Jorgensen hoped `conserve water' notices would be lifted by Friday when they reach normal levels of between 80 and 100 percent reservoir capacity.

During peak restrictions, residents couldn't wash their clothes, use dishwashers, water plants or clean cars. They were also told to use the motto: Īf it's yellow, let it mellow' for flushing the toilet.

But he was quick to point out that residents should not get to enthusiastic with their hoses yet. "Water is a precious resource and we don't want to waste it."

Residents should continue to be conservative with their water use and make sure they have drinking water at hand in case there were any more issues that cropped up, he said.

The council plans to investigate why the bore water was so dirty - there have been heavy downpours in North Otago recently - and what they could do to avoid it happening again.

Already a few potential solutions have emerged, however, Mr Jorgensen said it could be a challenge to balance creating a more resilient water supply at an achievable cost for the community.

Boosting water storage has been been mooted in the Waitaki District Council's long-term plan for the town.

Mr Jorgensen said that could be moved forward in the plan, however, it would need to be discussed further with the council and community before any changes were given a green light.

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