‘Des­per­ate for wa­ter’

Ex­treme wa­ter short­ages fu­elled by a scorch­ing sum­mer are prov­ing a tough mix for North­land. Re­porter JENNY LING talks to peo­ple about how they are cop­ing and the mea­sures they're tak­ing to get through

The Northern Advocate - - Front Page -

When you’re shar­ing a house with 12 wha¯ nau mem­bers it pays to get to the bath­room first. That’s what Michelle Tito-Brown reck­ons, as she grap­ples with Kaikohe’s level 4 wa­ter re­stric­tions at her place, where she lives with her hus­band, their nine chil­dren aged 11 to 22, and their 16-mon­thold mokop­una.

Like many res­i­dents and busi­nesses in the Far North, Tito-Brown is do­ing her best to con­serve wa­ter amid in­creas­ingly harsh con­di­tions that look set to con­tinue.

One bath is shared among five chil­dren, the bath­wa­ter is tossed over the plants, and they’re us­ing wa­ter from the wash­ing ma­chine to flush the toi­let.

Be­cause the tap wa­ter re­cently started run­ning a bit brown, they’re boil­ing it first, and drink­ing more bot­tled wa­ter.

Her fam­ily have even start­ing bathing at lo­cal swim­ming holes, which have be­come “packed with peo­ple”.

She’s slightly con­cerned about hav­ing to col­lect wa­ter from the three 30,000-litre wa­ter tanks in­stalled by Civil De­fence North­land at the for­mer RSA carpark if the town’s sup­ply runs dry.

“I’ve lived in Kaikohe all my life, and I’ve never seen it this hot and dry be­fore. It’s a wake-up call for a lot of peo­ple in­clud­ing my kids. They used to take wa­ter for granted,” she said.

How­ever, Tito-Brown is look­ing on the bright side.

“It’s com­mu­nity build­ing,” she said. “The coun­cil could have acted sooner, es­pe­cially since the fore­cast is no rain for a while. But it’s no-one’s fault the weather is like this. No-one is to blame.”

Over in Kaitaia — which also has level 4 re­stric­tions where wa­ter is for es­sen­tial drink­ing, cook­ing and wash­ing only — hair­dresser Tracey, from Ar­cade Hair, is flat out with clients pop­ping in for a sham­poo be­cause wa­ter is run­ning out at their homes.

Wa­ter is cru­cial for her busi­ness, and she is try­ing to use less by work­ing faster.

The gen­eral feel­ing among peo­ple in town is they are “des­per­ate for wa­ter”, she said.

“Ev­ery client talks about it, they’re all aware. We’re all in the same boat.”

The whole of North­land is be­ing urged to save wa­ter, and a drought was de­clared by the Gov­ern­ment on Tues­day.

The dec­la­ra­tion of a medium scale ad­verse weather event for the pri­mary sec­tor cov­ers all ar­eas north of the Auck­land Har­bour Bridge.

Fore­cast­ers are pre­dict­ing it could be months be­fore the re­gion re­ceives de­cent rain, prompt­ing the Far North District Coun­cil to in­stall emer­gency wa­ter tanks in Kaikohe and Kaitaia as back-up.

There are also tough wa­ter re­stric­tions in Kaipara, the Whangarei District Coun­cil is pre­par­ing for the pos­si­bil­ity of sup­ply­ing wa­ter to other districts, and is soon likely to in­tro­duce wa­ter re­stric­tions of its own.

Kaikohe is par­tic­u­larly af­fected, with the coun­cil warn­ing it has three to four days of treated wa­ter left in its reser­voirs.

The town has two main wa­ter sources,

"I've lived in Kaikohe all my life, and I've never seen it this hot and dry be­fore."

Wairoro Stream and an aquifer at Mon­u­ment Hill.

The coun­cil has al­ready breached min­i­mum wa­ter flow lev­els set by the North­land Re­gional Coun­cil (NRC) at the Wairoro Stream and has reached lim­its for the Mon­u­ment Hill aquifer.

The coun­cil plans to ask NRC to al­low more ground­wa­ter to be taken from Mon­u­ment Hill as a “stop-gap measure”.

But this doesn’t wash with the Waikotihe Trust which be­lieves it will com­pro­mise the Waikotihe Puna.

The nat­u­ral spring has long sup­plied the Aper­a­hama Church, Nga¯ ti Whakaeke hapu¯ and Ko­tahi­tanga Marae and has deep sig­nif­i­cance for hapu¯ mem­bers, who say it’s key to their iden­tity.

Trust chair­man Wi Pou said a pe­ti­tion signed by 1000 hapu¯ op­pos­ing the coun­cil tak­ing more wa­ter will be sub­mit­ted to NRC in com­ing days.

“We don’t want to com­pro­mise the spring,” Pou said.

“It’s our taonga . . . the puna will dry up if coun­cil take more. It’s a worry for all of us but what do you do? Do you wait for it to hap­pen or try to pre­vent it from hap­pen­ing? We’re try­ing to be a step ahead.”

Other Kaikohe busi­nesses, schools, rest homes and res­i­dents are also scram­bling to save wa­ter. Kaikohe Care Rest Home hospi­tal man­ager Cather­ine Headon said the fa­cil­ity, which cares for 56 res­i­dents, was try­ing to re­strict wa­ter “ev­ery way we can”.

Staff were wash­ing res­i­dents from a bowl rather than show­er­ing them and wa­ter from the bain maries, which keep food warm, was be­ing reused.

The rest home has three days of bot­tled wa­ter stored in cup­boards, but if the wa­ter taps are turned off “it will be a huge prob­lem”.

“Every­thing that can be saved is be­ing saved. It’s an in­con­ve­nience at the mo­ment, but we’re aware it could be a big­ger prob­lem.”

Percy and Cheree Cooper, of Thomas’s Fish Shop, are fork­ing out nearly $3000 for two wa­ter tanks, pumps and UV fil­ters for their busi­ness and home, with a plan to draw wa­ter from a fam­ily mem­ber’s bore.

“It’s put un­told stress on us,” Percy said. “It’s hard enough try­ing to run a busi­ness with­out hav­ing to worry about wa­ter.”

“Ev­ery­one is be­ing af­fected,” Cheree added. “A lot of fam­i­lies around here have a lot of chil­dren. It’s go­ing to be re­ally dif­fi­cult.”

The cou­ple said the coun­cil has shown “poor man­age­ment” over the is­sue.

“The re­spon­si­bil­ity falls on the coun­cil that haven’t ad­dressed the prob­lem and haven’t shown any vi­sion for the fu­ture,” Percy said.

“It’s just not right that in this day and age that a town runs out of wa­ter.”

Cafe´ Malaahi owner Julie Har­ris has plas­tered coun­cil wa­ter-sav­ing signs on her cafe´ ta­bles and win­dows.

The neigh­bour­ing petrol sta­tion has closed its toi­let for cus­tomers, and the cafe´ is no longer sup­ply­ing free wa­ter, mean­ing cus­tomers have to buy it.

“Ev­ery­one is dis­grun­tled,” Har­ris said. “Way back in Oc­to­ber we had the feel­ing we were go­ing to have a wa­ter short­age. Level 4 should have been im­posed then. It’s re­ally sad it’s gone this far.”

Kaikohe Busi­ness As­so­ci­a­tion chair­man Mike Kanji called the February 7 meet­ing, which grew to in­clude mem­bers of the pub­lic, who were briefed by the coun­cil, po­lice, civil de­fence and Fire and Emer­gency NZ.

About 150 peo­ple turned out to voice their con­cerns, with many ac­cus­ing the coun­cil of not do­ing enough to avert the cri­sis.

Kanji is do­ing his best to of­fer so­lu­tions and sup­port to busi­ness own­ers.

“This will prob­a­bly hap­pen next year and the year af­ter, so busi­nesses should think about putting tanks in or al­ter­na­tive wa­ter sup­plies,” he said.

“Civil De­fence has in­stalled the emer­gency tanks, but it doesn’t help the busi­nesses. How can you run a take­away shop or cafe´ when you’ve got no wa­ter?”

Shaun Reilly has lived in Kaikohe for 47 years and has never seen it this dry be­fore.

“The Waikaka Stream has stopped run­ning al­to­gether. That says to me this is drier than it has been. What we’ve got is a warn­ing sign that this will come back again.”

Reilly reck­ons the coun­cil needs to draw wa­ter from other sources like the Pa­pa­hawai­iki and Manga­mutu streams, not just the Wairoro.

And it should have called a pub­lic meet­ing ear­lier, in­stead of leav­ing it to the busi­ness as­so­ci­a­tion, he said.

“They should have done a heck of a lot more to al­le­vi­ate the sit­u­a­tion we’re in to­day.”

Last week the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion sent out guides to North­land schools and early child­hood cen­tres to help them as­sess whether to re­main open dur­ing the wa­ter short­ages.

The guides in­clude in­for­ma­tion about drink­ing wa­ter, toi­lets and sew­er­age, clean­ing, nappy chang­ing, hand wash­ing and gas­troin­testi­nal ill­ness.

Spokes­woman Ka­t­rina Casey en­cour­aged schools to stay up to date by check­ing Civil De­fence and district coun­cil Face­book pages.

“It’s a chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tion for the re­gion,” Casey said. “Wa­ter is es­sen­tial for the good run­ning of schools and early child­hood ser­vices and the health and safety of chil­dren is para­mount.”

Kaikohe East School was so con­cerned it called a meet­ing with seven lo­cal school prin­ci­pals and early child­hood cen­tre man­agers on Tues­day.

The meet­ing was at­tended by Mayor John Carter, coun­cil­lor Moko Tepa­nia and Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Kaikohe East Prin­ci­pal Chicky Rud­kin said there were no plans to close the schools.

“It would have a huge im­pact on wha¯ nau, busi­nesses and the com­mu­nity. That’s not an op­tion.”

Rud­kin said she feels “a lot more con­fi­dent and com­fort­able” af­ter hear­ing first-hand the coun­cil’s plans to se­cure fu­ture wa­ter re­sources.

“If noth­ing else, it’s been a re­ally good com­mu­nity project. It’s made us all get to­gether and en­sure our com­mu­ni­ca­tion is clear. We’re do­ing as much as we can.”

Nga¯wha¯ Prison and hospi­tals are also work­ing closely with au­thor­i­ties.

North­land Re­gion Cor­rec­tions Fa­cil­ity prison di­rec­tor Michael Rongo said the prison, which usu­ally con­sumes 225,000 litres per day, has sus­pended nonessen­tial wa­ter use for its com­mu­nity gar­dens.

It has also re­duced wa­ter pres­sure across the site, dis­abled out­side taps and cut pris­on­ers’ show­ers from two fiveminute show­ers per day to one shower last­ing three min­utes.

A 30,000-litre tank is ar­riv­ing this week for drink­ing wa­ter for staff and pris­on­ers.

“We are com­mit­ted to do­ing all we can to re­duce use of the lo­cal wa­ter sup­ply at this crit­i­cal time.”

The North­land District Health Board is work­ing closely with emer­gency ser­vices and Civil De­fence.

Spokes­woman Jeanette Wed­ding said the birthing units have stopped wa­ter births. It also may con­sider switch­ing to hand sanitiser in­stead of wash­ing hands with wa­ter in non-clin­i­cal sit­u­a­tions.

The DHB pro­vided the coun­cil and Civil De­fence with de­tails of the Mid and Far North’s eight home dial­y­sis pa­tients so they can be looked af­ter as “pri­or­ity sites for wa­ter”, Wed­ding said.

In Kaitaia, the town’s main source of drink­ing wa­ter, the Awanui River, is cur­rently ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the low­est wa­ter flow on record go­ing back 50 years.

Far North iwi Te Rarawa is try­ing to man­age wa­ter sup­plies for the 200ha mar­ket farm called Bell’s Pro­duce it bought last year.

Te Rarawa chair­man Haami Piripi said they have had to re­strict wa­ter use, al­though it hasn’t af­fected pro­duc­tion yet.

“It will prob­a­bly af­fect the busi­ness if the drought con­tin­ues, but not sig­nif­i­cantly at this stage.

“Wa­ter is con­nected to every­thing; our busi­ness in part sur­vives on wa­ter and we have to make sure there’s on­go­ing avail­abil­ity and con­tin­gency plans be­cause it’s so dry.”

The NRC pub­licly warned four months ago the re­gion was fac­ing large rain­fall deficits, flag­ging the need for sen­si­ble pre-sum­mer plan­ning.

Group man­ager reg­u­la­tory ser­vices Colin Dall said district coun­cils might need to look at im­pos­ing wa­ter re­stric­tions ear­lier than nor­mal.

The Kaipara District Coun­cil was the first to im­pose level 4 re­stric­tions in Dar­gav­ille in­clud­ing Baylys Beach.

Kaipara Mayor Dr Ja­son Smith said the Kaihu River is mon­i­tored con­stantly, and the fact it is drop­ping is of con­cern.

The coun­cil has asked the NRC to move into an “emer­gency wa­ter take sit­u­a­tion” to con­tinue tak­ing wa­ter from the river, he said.

“The chal­lenge for Kaipara is that most peo­ple are on tank wa­ter not town wa­ter, and the tank wa­ter sup­plies nor­mally come from Dar­gav­ille.

“Right now, there are lim­its on wa­ter car­ri­ers be­ing able to get their wa­ter from the Dar­gav­ille sup­ply. The only peo­ple who can do so are peo­ple with med­i­cal con­di­tions.”

Smith said al­though the North has seen dry pe­ri­ods be­fore, this year was sig­nif­i­cant be­cause it was three weeks early.

“It makes the jour­ney longer. That’s a huge con­cern.”

Far North Mayor John Carter said the coun­cil was mak­ing “sig­nif­i­cant progress” on es­tab­lish­ing tem­po­rary and per­ma­nent, long-term sup­plies to sup­ple­ment Kaikohe and Kaitaia wa­ter sources.

The coun­cil was also work­ing with other lo­cal au­thor­i­ties and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to cre­ate an over­all wa­ter strat­egy which cov­ered in­fra­struc­ture and wa­ter re­ten­tion, he said.

“We’re do­ing as much as we can given where we’re at. Go­ing for­ward, I’m con­fi­dent we’ll get tem­po­rary and longterm sup­ple­men­tary sup­plies that will help us through cir­cum­stances like this. I’m hop­ing to have this in place within the next 12 to 15 months.”

The Gov­ern­ment has promised $31.2 mil­lion to progress wa­ter stor­age projects in North­land in a bid to make the re­gion re­silient in ex­treme weather.

The North­land wa­ter stor­age and use project has iden­ti­fied about 6300ha of po­ten­tial land, which may be suit­able for con­ver­sion to hor­ti­cul­ture in Kaipara as part of a wa­ter sup­ply scheme, an­other 1600ha south of Kaikohe and 1700ha near Lake Omapere.

North­land MP Matt King said al­though this would help with land in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion in years to come, the project won’t be an an­swer to town wa­ter sup­ply is­sues.

King said it was not ac­cept­able to run out of wa­ter, par­tic­u­larly when there were reg­u­lar droughts com­bined with pop­u­la­tion growth. The coun­cil needed to ad­dress some “fun­da­men­tal is­sues”.

“They’ve clearly not in­vested enough in find­ing and fund­ing wa­ter sup­plies and in­fra­struc­ture.

“Towns are grow­ing and if we’re hav­ing wa­ter re­stric­tions ev­ery time it gets dry it’s not good enough. We’re sup­posed to be a first-world coun­try.”

Te Tai Tok­erau MP Kelvin Davis said 2019 was one of the dri­est years on record. “This is a very chal­leng­ing time. I know ev­ery­one in our com­mu­ni­ties . . . par­tic­u­larly in Kaikohe and Kaitaia, will be com­ing to­gether and sup­port­ing each other to get through this.”


Michelle Tito-Brown (cen­tre), pic­tured with Kaikohe Chris­tian School stu­dents and whanau.


The big dry is vis­i­ble on the farm be­long­ing to North­land farmer Ter­ence Brocx in Kaikohe.


Percy and Cheree Cooper, of Thomas’s Fish Shop in Kaikohe, say the wa­ter re­stric­tions have put “un­told stress” on them.

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