Opinion: Water security - lets arm ourselves with honesty

  • Opinion
  • 07/12/2018

By Chris Allen

OPINION: Security of water supply is a global issue. As populations increase and cities grow, pressure also increases to supply communities with clean and reliable drinking water.

South Africa's Cape Town almost went completely dry on water in 2017. The US city of Flint's water supply is in a shocking state and has been for years. Closer to home, the robust town of Oamaru has had to turn to all major media outlets to get the community to take water restriction notices seriously.

What happened to Oamaru appears to be a massive downpour in rain caused their water supply to become too turbid for normal consumption. Last week the public were urged to conserve their use, the warnings went unheeded and then restrictions came in.

Guarantee of water supply is not just a small-town problem  in 2017 Auckland faced its largest water crisis in 23 years. A city which on average uses 450 million litres of water a day was also faced with too much rain, siltation making the water untreatable.

These cases underline the fragility of water infrastructure and what happens when it's not taken seriously. 

Water is abundant in New Zealand, but not always where or when we want it. Average regional rainfall differs from millimeters to metres, and when rain does come it is often in large rainfall events, making it unsuitable for immediate use. New Zealand needs to develop modern infrastructure to harvest and store this valuable and plentiful resource.

Chris Allen says supply of water is an important issue for both town and country.
Chris Allen says supply of water is an important issue for both town and country. Photo credit: Supplied

Water security needs to be moved up the agenda, for both urban and rural. Reliable water supply is essential to town and country, everyone enjoys a shower at night and clean clothes. Name an industry and it will need water in some way, shape or form, and preferably reliable. We have the water, with a little bit of forward thinking we could take the stress out of it for all.

Oamaru is an area of the country that should be well-known to anyone who ever took notice of the news in the '80s. This was an area pushed by dry conditions that was rejuvenated with the adoption of irrigation and access to the Waitaki River.

Farming could grow, so did employment and the towns survived, but now it could be that urban communities have become complacent and local historical context around lack of water has been forgotten.

In the case of Cape Town officials had asked the public for years to restrict their water use and they were ignored. The action that took the public's imagination and forced people to change their habits was complete honesty. The Guardian said the South African Government declared a "day zero" - "a moment when dam levels would be so low that they would turn off the taps in Cape Town and send people to communal water collection points".

In New Zealand there is no need for this. We have the water, we just need to store it when it is available and use it when we need it.

Maybe when New Zealanders are faced with water shortages on a more regular basis they will take this issue more seriously. If our communities are not prepared to invest in water storage infrastructure - economically, environmentally and socially, they will have to learn to go without.

Chris Allen is Federated Farmers' water spokesman.