Community helps shape plans for new water treatment plant in west Auckland

28 May 2019

Watercare says that two years of open-minded and frank conversations with the west Auckland community has helped to shape its plans for a new water treatment plant and two storage reservoirs in Waima (Titirangi) for the better.

On May 27, we were pleased to submit a resource consent application to Auckland Council that we believe goes a long way in terms of minimising and mitigating the environmental and social effects of this essential project.

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The proposed treatment plant will replace the Huia Water Treatment Plant which was built in 1928 and is reaching the end of its operational life. The reservoirs will increase the volume of water stored locally, improving the resilience of the wider water network and accommodating daily demand fluctuations. 

As with the existing plant, the new plant will treat water from four dams in the Waitākere Ranges. The water produced by the plant will feed into Auckland’s metropolitan water supply network, meeting up to 20 per cent of the city’s water needs. This means it benefits the wider Auckland community.

Watercare’s head of servicing and consents, Mark Bourne, says we own the land we intend to build on and that it has been designated for water supply purposes since 1972.

“The designation means we are able to build a water treatment plant and reservoirs there at any time subject to Auckland Council reviewing our outline plan of works.

“However, we need to seek resource consents for initial activities that will enable us to carry out construction work, such as vegetation removal.”

The land covers three sites along Woodlands Park Road in Waima, west Auckland, and includes the existing treatment plant site. Watercare’s board of directors confirmed this land as the preferred location in May 2017.

“This land was selected following a comprehensive site assessment that started off with more than 100 sites. The number of possible sites reduced over time as technical, environmental, social and environmental factors were evaluated.
 
“The fact that we own the land at Waima, and it is designated for water supply services, influenced our decision-making. It means we do not have to displace any people from their homes and we have the right to build a treatment plant and reservoirs there – subject to us gaining resource consents for the pre-construction work." 

The designation also provided the community with advance knowledge that one day we could decide to construct water treatment facilities on these sites.
 
“Our decision-making was also dictated by the elevation of the sites. Much of Auckland’s water is supplied to homes and businesses using gravity. By using gravity, we can significantly reduce on-going operating costs as well as carbon footprint, and also ensure treated water can still be supplied when there is a power outage,” says Bourne.
 
The land has been designated for water supply purposes for more than 40 years. The Auckland Unitary Plan placed a ‘significant ecological area’ status over the entire Waitākere Ranges area, including our land.
 
“We’re really conscious of the ecological value of this land,” says Bourne. “That’s why we commissioned Boffa Miskell to undertake an extensive ecological survey that identified which areas were of most significance in terms of structure, composition and function.
 
“They did an incredible job of mapping the vegetation types, waterways and habitats. Their work means we know where all of the large native trees are that we want to protect.”
 
The ecological attributes of the site was the topic of numerous discussions with the Waitākere Community Liaison Group.
 
We set up the liaison group in 2017 to work with the project team as they developed the proposal for the plant.  The group is made up of representatives from a wide range of organisations: West Auckland Historical Society, Titirangi Protection Group, Waitākere Ranges Protection Society, Titirangi Residents and Ratepayers Association, Auckland Botanical Society, Tree Council, and Forest and Bird Waitākere Branch. They have had access to independent ecological and statutory planning advisors, funded by us.

Bourne says they meet regularly with the group to discuss ways to optimise the design and minimise adverse effects.

“They challenge us in constructive ways, often resulting in good community outcomes. For example, the group’s unwavering focus on protecting kauri trees led us to review the location for the reservoirs. We concluded that we could build the second reservoir on the existing plant site in around 10 years’ time. This decision has saved a stand of large kauri.”

The community liaison group has also helped to shape our environmental compensation package as well as our social mitigation initiatives that will help to off-set any adverse effects. These initiatives include:

  • Establishing and funding a charitable public trust to provide funding to private groups that seek to undertake pest and weed control and other environmental projects in the ‘Waima’ catchment of the Waitākere ranges. 

  • Upgrading the intersection of Woodlands Park Road and Scenic Drive to improve traffic and pedestrian safety.

  • Carrying out remedial work on the historical Nihotupu Filter Station in order to give it new life as an office and/or exhibition space.

We have asked Auckland Council to notify the public of our resource consent application. This is to give everyone the opportunity to make a submission on the proposal. The submission period will last for a minimum of 20 working days.

In the coming months, Auckland Council is likely to advertise the application in the local newspapers, and directly affected parties will be served notices individually. Council will also post information on their website.

Public submissions will be heard by independent commissioners, who will be appointed by the council, at a set hearing following the end of the submission period. 

Bourne says Watercare is very aware of the high level of interest in this project.

“Our open days and meetings have been really well attended, and we’ve responded to over 1,600 public emails, so we know the community is really interested in our project.

“We want to make sure everyone has plenty of time to consider our resource consent application. That’s why we’ve published the application on our website, along with a guide to the application process and supporting information.”