Northland Drought

Northland drought: Residents say council knew of water issues for years

Article from, Feb 13, 2020 - view full article here.

Far North residents who fear their water is running dry say authorities should have acted faster.

But with the drought producing conditions similar to one of the worst on record, the Far North District Council says it is focused on keeping the community informed.

Kaikohe, Kaitaia and Dargaville are now on level 4 water restrictions - the toughest council can imposed.

Residents of Kaikohe and Kaitaia have also been warned the towns could run dry soon if water savings were not made.

If that happened, residents and businesses would be forced to queue to fill containers for all their water needs, with temporary tanks set up in both Kaikohe and Kaitaia.

Kaikohe Business Association chairman Mike Kanji said that would be unacceptable to local businesses.

"Every business needs water to run and the most important are the childcare centres, the medical centres.

"We can't just stop taking water; we can't just have a town that closes."

Kanji criticised the council for not acting sooner to find an alternate water source, such as using Lake Omapere.

While the council attended a meeting on February 7, communication up until then was poor, he said. No one was sure when the water would run out.

Kaikohe father Te Auta Whare was equally worried, saying he had had heard rumours the water would be cut off on Tuesday.

There were also rumours of just three days' water supply left, but the council said that wasn't true and it would be able to give at least two days' notice before the taps ran dry.

Whare expected there would be long queues at the RSA if people had to get all of their water from tanks.

"People are going to be lining up for miles, just to get their water."

Whare was especially concerned about his children's education if schools had to close due to sanitation issues.

But Chicky Rudkin, principal of Kaikohe East School, said a productive meeting on Tuesday enabled schools to organise water tanks for hand washing and toilet flushing.

She expected a tank at her school to be delivered in the next week or two.

Rudkin said the majority of Kaikohe schools agreed they would not close nor reduce hours.

"It just has such a huge impact on our whanāu and businesses, and our kids, that we just couldn't do that. Our kids are better at school."


Further north, criticism for the council was even louder in the town of Kaitaia, with residents blaming the council for years of inaction.

"A bit late for talk ... Kaitaia should never had gotten too this point! Years of neglect for our beautiful town and district!!! You and your council are responsible," one resident, Dawn Preece, said on Facebook.

Kaitaia's one water source, the Awanui River, was vulnerable to dry weather.

The council began a $6 million project in 2013 to access water from Aupōuri Aquifer at Sweetwater.

However, the project fell over, with a 2015 Serious Fraud office investigation finding councillors and staff did not follow proper processes in the spending of public money.

The council was still hoping to secure a connection at Sweetwater.

Residents were also concerned about the lack of notice of water problems - with water restrictions in the town only starting in January, as opposed to October in Kaikohe.

Council general manager of infrastructure and asset management, Andy Finch, said the council relied on water level data provided by the Northland Regional Council.

It introduced level 3 water restrictions in Kaitaia, skipping Level 2, when regional council data showed a sudden drop in water levels.


Finch said the council was always looking at ways to improve its communication with the community.

But he said the council had been focused on keeping residents and businesses informed about the water crisis, including distributing fliers, putting up signs, running radio adverts and putting updates on social media.

The council held a water information stall at the Kaikohe A&P show on January 18 and would hold another one in the town on Friday, plus at the Kaitaia A&P show on February 22.

Finch said Kaikohe's two water sources -  the Wairoro Stream and an aquifer at Monument Hill – were historically resilient but record low rainfall was causing problems.

Lake Omapere was not used as a supplementary water source due to problems with a toxic algal bloom in the lake, and complexities around access and infrastructure requirements, he said.

Chicky Rudkin said while communication from the council had not been great, her school was pleased to get fliers and posters on Tuesday afternoon.

The community needed to come together to reduce water use and get through the crisis, she said.

"I just had a call from [Kaikohe] New World looking at bringing everyone boxes of water; just that awhi [hug and support] to schools is really appreciated."

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