Auckland water crisis: Hamilton City Council agrees to allot 25 million litres of water from its annual allocation to help Auckland

Hamilton City Council has extended a helping hand to drought-stricken Auckland, agreeing to reallocate 25 million litres of water from its own annual share as the city battles a severe, once-in-a-generation shortage. 

Although the reallocation is free of charge, Hamilton Mayor Paula Southgate said she hopes to see "demonstrable progress" in Auckland's sustainable water supply following the gesture of goodwill. 

"We've got a little bit of surplus water within our consent take that we can reallocate to Auckland and help them out of this hard situation they're in. The 25 million litres is flow that will be allocated to Hamilton City Council, but we can't use [it]," Southgate explained to The AM Show on Wednesday morning.

"We know Auckland is in dire straits. They came to us and said, 'Would you reallocate your water for a period of time?' and of course, that just made sense - especially post-COVID, when we need our big city up the road to be thriving."

The offer follows Environment Minister David Parker's agreement to fast-track Auckland's application for an additional 200 million litres of water from the Waikato River - an application that has been languishing behind 105 other resource consent requests since it was filed in 2013. 

On Tuesday, Parker issued a statement confirming that Auckland's application had been called in under the Resource Management Act and transferred to a Board of Inquiry. 

Hamilton's helping hand comes in stark contrast to the responses from the Waikato River Authority and the Waikato Regional Council. Earlier this week, the River Authority's chief executive, Bob Penter, proposed that if Auckland wants 25 million additional litres from the river each day, it can pay 10-cents-per-litre for the privilege - with a daily receipt of a whopping $2.5 million.

Responding to the Authority's proposal, Southgate reiterated that no one can own water in New Zealand - hence the free reallocation of Hamilton's water allowance.

The Waikato Regional Council has also staunchly refused to help Auckland combat its ongoing water shortage, with chairman Russ Rimmington telling council subsidiary Watercare - the organisation that manages Auckland's municipal water - to "get a grip" in a fiery rant last week. 

Rimmington's tirade followed Auckland Mayor Phil Goff's plea to Parliament to fast-track the 2013 application, urging the Government to add the water crisis to the list of 11 urgent projects set to receive funding as part of the COVID-19 recovery plan. 

Rimmington argued that Watercare's lack of forward-thinking regarding the city's infrastructure and growing population was to blame, telling The AM Show: "Watercare have absolutely had closed ears... 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... you're not going to take this water."

When asked by host Duncan Garner whether the regional council and the River Authority are simply "anti-Auckland", Southgate defended the organisations, noting that the decision whether to allow Auckland to draw additional water from the Waikato River is "more complex". 

"They're allocating the bigger, more permanent flow for Auckland - we're just involved in the temporary reallocation of part of our flow," she explained.

Paula Southgate says Hamilton City Council wants to see "demonstrable progress" in Auckland's sustainable water supply as thanks for the 25 million litre reallocation.
Paula Southgate says Hamilton City Council wants to see "demonstrable progress" in Auckland's sustainable water supply as thanks for the 25 million litre reallocation. Photo credit: The AM Show

Southgate also defended the application's seven-year processing delay, reiterating that the legislation operates on a first come, first served basis.

"It's a first in, first served basis for allocating water and there is a queue. Of course now that the minister has called that in, Auckland will be at the front of that queue for consideration.

"Lots of people have been left in the queue, to be fair... we've got one lake - Lake Taupo - and one river - the Waikato River - it's like a bucket and a hose. The more holes you put in the hose as you go along it, the less there is at the far end."

The Waikato River Authority has argued that Auckland Council is too reliant on neighbouring Waikato to come to the rescue, saying the now fast-tracked application for 200 million additional litres of water per day will risk the health and wellbeing of the river.

"This will remove a significant volume of water from the Waikato River catchment, lower the river across a wide area, and risk further intrusion of salt water into the river system with consequential ecosystem and habitat effects," WRA iwi co-chair Roger Pikia argued this week.

"Auckland last year took 17 percent of its water needs from the Waikato River, and is currently taking an estimated 40 percent. It is not sustainable for more and more water to be going out of the Waikato catchment.

"This is not a Waikato versus Auckland issue, this is a Waikato River issue."

On Monday, the Waikato River Authority called for a Government inquiry into Auckland Council's water mismanagement, pushing for an investigation into "how Auckland City got itself into its current predicament".