It’s probably time to notice why Jones’ Provincial Growth Fund had to step in and provide several million of funding to patch up the water supply emergency in Northland.
We are in the most serious drought the upper North Island has had in recorded history, so it’s no surprise the entire system is showing strain alongside the land, the people and the animals.
In a small country with poor resources such as ours, it is nothing short of a miracle that we have such massive water storage facilities that have been built up over a century.
The dams formed in the previous century are now in the hands of corporations and are used largely for electricity generation and irrigation. They will enable that the South Island effectively never runs dry, never runs out of electricity, and will always be agriculturally productive.
Not so in the North Island.
By a long, long way, we are learning the hard way that there is not enough water storage nor facilities to process that water for human consumption. The Provincial Growth Fund is having to step in time and again to get water storage going where the planning and public investing should have been done decades earlier.
Now let’s contrast and compare Auckland’s water situation with that of Northland.
Auckland put out a discussion document on the future of water for the Auckland region. It showed that Aucklanders are on average pretty efficient in water use even when compared to some of the major Australian cities. It also forecast that Auckland’s increase growth – and growth in demand for water – would likely be sourced from further take from the Waikato River.
So in terms of proximity to a massive water source, Auckland is simply lucky.
It was also lucky to inherit through amalgamation the dams that had been built in the Waitakeres and Hunuas built in the 20th century.
But the amalgamation of Auckland also amalgamated all the local water retailers and the bulk water supplier into one entity. This amalgamation has enabled comprehensive planning for well into the future. Also the water is metered and priced, so it’s really easy to let consumers do the job of minimising use.
Northland has one regional council and a good few smaller councils. They don’t appear to cooperate that much, and they are poor because they represent mostly poor areas. They don’t have the rating base to think up and execute major projects.
Until such an extreme event as this drought occurred, there just wasn’t much need to look over the fence and cooperate together on water supply.
So now there is, and after this drought there always will be.
At the end of January, $12.7 million was allocated from the Provincial Growth Fund to the Northland Regional Council to really explore future water storage options. For intensive agriculture in the Kaipara.
That’s just not going to assist in drinking water for the good people of Dargaville – even though the announcement was made in Dargaville by Winston Peters who did all his High School there, and by Shane Jones who is from the Far North.
The Kaipara District Council is still struggling to pay for its disastrous but slowly recovering wastewater facility in Mangawhai Heads. Kaipara Mayor Dr Jason Smith said that while the PGF funding was hugely significant for Kaipara’s economy, it would not help municipal supply.
Smith said water storage for Dargaville homes could cost up to $15 million, which was too expensive for a ratepayer base of just 7,000 and was already struggling to pay off the $63 million Mangawhai wastewater scheme.
As Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta observed in 2018 there’s no agenda to require local councils to amalgamate their water entities to get a bit more scale. However, she noted that it was part of a longer conversation needed with local government which owns most of the water assets and which faces wide-ranging funding challenges and capability issues, particularly in rural and provincial areas, and that “councils in a number of areas have voluntarily been looking at the pros and cons of collaborative arrangements in Hawkes Bay, Wellington, the Waikato and top of the south.”
A while back there was loose talk of Watercare taking over management of Kaipara’s water system – or indeed the whole of Northland. It’s a very small set of reticulated networks compared to what Watercare operates across the Auckland region already.
This drought certainly makes those in New Zealand who criticised Australia for lack of preparedness due to climate change just last month look pretty damn arrogant and stupid.
This could be a hinge moment for climate change effects and their response in New Zealand. It looks like there’s nothing in the forecast for the first two weeks of March either. This is big.
You won’t see any public water storage sold off under this government.
Nor will you see forced amalgamations of Council water entities.
Nor will you see water priced, nor compulsory metering.
Nor any banging of heads of some compulsory regional-plus-local forecasting and planning and doing. Leastways not yet.
You will see more funding for industrial storage, and some patch-up funding for emergency supply because Councils failed to plan, and then just simply failed.
With so many options ruled out, the solutions to durable water supply for Northland’s towns is getting narrower by the day.
And this doesn’t yet have an end.