Auckland water crisis: Waikato Regional Council chair says Phil Goff is 'not going to take water' from Waikato River

Drought-stricken Auckland isn't welcome to any of Waikato's water supply, according to the regional council's chairman, who advised Watercare to "get a grip" in a fiery on-air rant.

Waikato Regional Council chair Russ Rimmington unleashed his ire on The AM Show in response to Auckland Mayor Phil Goff's plea to Parliament to allow the council to draw more water from the Waikato River, as the city grapples with dramatically-reduced dams and stringent water restrictions.

Goff is urging the Government to add Auckland's water crisis to the list of 11 urgent projects set to receive Government funding as part of the COVID-19 recovery plan. If that doesn't happen, 14,000 jobs - mainly in the construction and food-processing industries - are at risk due to the city's ongoing water restrictions. 

Yet this isn't the first time Auckland has begged the Waikato for water. Watercare lodged an application back in 2013 with the Regional Council - but it has yet to be processed seven years later, with 105 resource consent requests ahead in the queue. 

Rimmington insists that the council has done "backflips" to accommodate Auckland's requests, but says the city - and Watercare - must ultimately take responsibility for its overloaded infrastructure. 

"We do backflips to help Auckland and Watercare, and they can't even process the water that's allocated to them. They just got round to doing that in the last three weeks - that's the truth of the matter. They haven't got the processing facility at Tuakau and the truth needs to be told," Rimmington claimed to The AM Show on Tuesday morning. 

"Twenty-five-million litres we did, between the non-stress period - that's April through to October. Again - you haven't got the ability to process the water. We're doing backflips, we've helped in every possible way to get water to Auckland - but you've got major problems with Watercare and they should be taken to task."

On Monday, Goff pleaded with the Environment Select Committee to fast-track Auckland's application to take an extra 200 million litres of water each day from the Waikato River. When questioned by The AM Show host Duncan Garner about the seven-year processing delay, Rimmington argued that applications are "not a beauty parade" and will be processed in the order they are received. 

"That is the Resource Management Act, that's the law - we can't break the law," he argued.

He says it would be unlawful for Auckland's application to be fast-tracked regardless of its status as New Zealand's largest and most-populated city.

"We can't operate outside the would you feel if you'd gone through the list of 100 applicants and suddenly Auckland jumps the queue? That's not the way we operate in this country. We've got to be lawful - Phil Goff might pull it through, but there will be major ramifications, I believe, if they pull that off."

Auckland needs to explore alternative options to retain its dwindling water supply, suggesting water tanks on roofs or water-saving showerheads - none of which have been addressed, he argued. Rimmington also hit out at Watercare for their management of the "debacle", urging them to take responsibility for the crisis and stop pawing off the Waikato. 

"Your water restrictions didn't come on until May, for heaven's sake. We started in December. [Watercare has] got to get a grip and take some responsibility... I would take them to task and look at that whole management very seriously. 

"They've created the crisis, not the Waikato Regional Council."

Co-host Amanda Gillies pointed out that a blunt refusal to help Auckland out of its dire straits could backfire in the future, implying that the council may be less willing to help its Waikato counterpart with any future favours. But Rimmington wasn't having any of it.

"Watercare have absolutely had closed ears... they don't walk the talk. It will continue every year... you've got 1.5 million people, you've got 300,000 [additional] people in the last 10 years - your infrastructure is bursting at the seams," Rimmington said.

"You're not going to take this water. We need it desperately... for feeding the powerhouse of New Zealand. And it ain't Auckland - you go and have your lattes, but we're actually getting the export dollars to make this country great."

Garner fired back that 13.5 billion litres of water from the Waikato River flows out to sea daily, arguing that the region can't "desperately" need it.

"You allow, as the chair of the council, for this water to be uncaught, with no catchment at all, and for it to go out to sea - it's wasted. You're in charge of waste," Garner shot back.

Rimmington said authorities had failed to take the necessary water during the 'non-stress period' between April 2019 and October 2019, suggesting water had instead been taken from the dams as it's cheaper to process.

Auckland's drought has been described as a one-in-200-year event that continues to worsen. In a worst-case scenario, proposals include completely turning off water for a period each day, and reducing pressure to just a trickle.

"We will have less than average rain during winter and spring, and that makes very real the prospects of severe water restrictions come this summer," Goff said.

"We can't afford to close down this country's biggest city."