Whangarei faces water use cuts as district looks to supply Far North and Kaipara

4:56 pm on 11 February 2020

Whangarei's almost 100,000 residents will likely soon need to cut their water use as the district moves to help desperate water-shortage-hit Far North and Kaipara communities.

No caption

A dry field in Northland in January. The Far North is facing a water shortage. Photo: RNZ / Liz Garton

Rob Forlong, Whangarei District Council (WDC) chief executive said restrictions were likely for Whangarei, their implementation in large part so Whangarei could adequately provide water for Far North and Kaipara.

He said Whangarei's water supply was in reasonably good shape. But water restrictions would likely be needed, to help ensure water for essential Far North and Kaipara needs.

Pending Whangarei water restrictions would likely mean watering gardens and sports field irrigation was cut out or cut back - depending on which level of water restriction was put in place.

WDC has signalled likely level two water restrictions, which means a ban on using sprinklers and other unattended garden watering. Swimming pools can still be filled, gardens freely watered with hand-held hoses and cars washed at this control level.

Meanwhile, the toughest, level four water restrictions are now in place for Kaitaia, Kaikohe, Dargaville and Baylys Beach meaning water can be used only for indoor drinking and washing essentials.

Forlong said water's basic life-giving essentials such as drinking and public health needs naturally took precedence in Whangarei - and around the North - over its use for discretionary purposes.

Other restriction implementation reasons included wisely managing the district's water resource, he said.

No caption

A parched hillside in Northland. Photo: RNZ / Liz Garton

WDC on Tuesday morning held an extraordinary council meeting to delegate powers to Forlong as council chief executive to impose water restrictions.

Council Mayor Sheryl Mai told the meeting Northland's current water situation was likely to become the new normal.

"We must be prepared for a future where water is even more important than it is today," Mai said.

Water restrictions were last imposed in Whangarei in 2010 - the year of Northland's last big drought.

Andrew Venmore, WDC manager water services, said after the meeting trucking Whangarei water to other Northland districts was unprecedented during his almost 25 years in the sector.

He said likely Whangarei water restriction would happen, even without the district preparing to provide water for essential needs to other parts of Northland.

Water restrictions now would deal with 2019's low rainfall and help set Whangarei up, should there be another dry winter which extended into next summer.

"The 2019 year was the driest year since the construction of Whau Valley Dam in 1969. Only 816 millimetres of rain fell at Whau Valley compared with the annual average of 1591mm," Venmore told this morning's WDC council meeting.

Water trucked to the Far North will be taken from 1.3 million cubic metres of water stored in Whangarei's Whau Valley Dam - the second-largest municipal water supply in the region. The dam is currently 69 percent full.

Venmore said the Whangarei water would be piped to Fonterra's Kauri dairy factory through its link to the that water supply. Northland Civil Defence was in discussions to organise for trucks transporting water to the Far North to fill up with this water at the Kauri factory.

Whangarei district's currently using about 32 million litres of water a day - reasonably typical for the time of year.

Venmore said water carriers were currently Whangarei district's current biggest water users. These were carriers from Whangarei filling up to distribute around the district, one day recently carrying 450,000 litres of water.

no metadata

Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by RNZ, the Newspaper Publishers' Association and NZ On Air.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs