After a marathon year of droughts and water restrictions, Auckland finally has a goal to reduce its water consumption

Water, water everywhere, and most certainly in the news. After a massive public information campaign last year, Aucklanders managed to knock 100 million litres a day off the city’s water consumption.

It’s something Aucklanders should be proud of, according to Mayor Phil Goff, but it’s also just the beginning.

Thi week, Auckland Council’s environment and climate committee set targets on water consumption for the first time, aiming to reduce potable water use by 15 percent per capita by 2050. That means going from the current 286 litres per capita per day, to 247 litres by 2030, and finally to 225 litres by 2050.

For residential users, that means reducing consumption by about 22 percent, or 38 litres a day from current levels. Meanwhile, commercial users will have to reduce by about 11 percent, roughly seven litres per day.

The plan also sets a target for reining in leakage across the vast water network from the current 13.47 percent to 11 percent or less by 2030.

Speaking at a council meeting on Thursday, Goff said the new targets were needed to lock in the good work already done by Aucklanders. Goff urged his fellow councillors to support the targets after a heated exchange.

“We should never abandon the good for the perfect,” he said. “We’re already doing well, and we can do better.”

Some councillors, such as Ōrākei’s Desley Simpson, felt the targets weren’t ambitious enough, while Manurewa-Papakura’s Daniel Newman was concerned the 2030 target wasn’t achievable.

Working against the new targets is a projected increase in water demand, mostly driven by Auckland’s growing population. Auckland is expected to reach six million people by 2050, increasing gross water demand from an average of about 450 million litres per day to more than 600 million litres.

Demand for water is set to grow alongside Auckland’s population. Image: Watercare

To meet the new targets, Auckland Council and Watercare plan on installing smart water meters on all homes by 2034. Unlike older water meters, which require a monthly reading, smart meters monitor water use in real time, allowing consumers to see how much they’re using.

Environment and climate committee chair Richard Hills says the new meters will let Aucklanders track their usage and change behaviour or make repairs if they need to.

“At the moment it’s tough because you can save water all month and then get your bill and realise you had a leak the whole time,” he says.

“If we have smart meters and there is a drought we can say ‘Look, you need to reduce your usage by 20 litres a day’ and people will know how to do that.”

Another important part of reaching the new target is reducing leakage across Auckland’s pipes. By setting fixed goals, Watercare will be required to invest money in seeking out and repairing leaky pipes proactively, rather than waiting till major leaks show up.

Beyond these measures, Auckland Council also hopes to require new homes to be water efficient from 2025 and to ensure all new homes with rainwater tanks can have that water plumbed in for non-drinking uses such as watering the garden or flushing the toilet.

“We haven’t had a water strategy, and that’s been part of the issue.”
– Richard Hills

The targets are the first step in cementing Council’s long-awaited water strategy, a process they hope to have completed by the end of the year.

Mayor Goff says the lack of a clear water strategy was one of the main complaints levelled against Auckland Council in 2020, and councillor Hills acknowledges it is something the Council should have already had.

“We haven’t had a water strategy, and that’s been part of the issue,” he says.

Another major problem has been the lack of clear communication between Council and Watercare. Hills says setting the new targets is part of opening up a dialogue between the two bodies.

“To have Watercare working with us has been quite a big change, and quite a positive one,” he says.

“I think they felt like we were pushing them too hard but they’ve definitely come on board and they are backing what we passed today”.

While fixing leaky pipes and installing smart meters is intended to curb consumption, measures have also been introduced to increase Auckland’s water supply.

Around six million litres a day will come from the return of Papakura’s Hays Creek Dam, with a further four million litres a day from an upgraded Onehunga aquifer. Another 50 million litres a day will come from a new treatment plant and pump station in Tūākau, planned for completion this year.

However, the targets will not go far enough to negate the need for an increased water take from the Waikato River. Watercare’s application for a further 150 million litres per day from Waikato will go ahead if approved by the special Board of Inquiry, though Council says the new targets will mean that the additional water is used more efficiently

While Watercare says further water restrictions like last year are unlikely, Aucklanders should still be conscious of their water use. Showers should be kept to four minutes where possible, and trigger nozzles should be used on outdoor hoses.

Ben Leonard writes on Treaty issues and the environment.

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