Drought response found to be effective overall, with scope for improvement

Stage one of our new water treatment plant, Tuakau under construction
Stage one of our new water treatment plant which is under construction in Tuakau

An independent review by engineering company Aurecon of our handling of the drought in 2020 has found that we were well prepared and managed the response effectively, with scope for improvement.
In July 2020, our Board engaged Aurecon to carry out an independent review, as board chair Margaret Devlin explains: “We wanted to understand our performance before and during the current drought in order to respond more effectively to future droughts.
“Over many months, Aurecon analysed our plans, spoke to our stakeholders, compared our response to cities internationally, and looked at future risks for Auckland.”
Aurecon presented its findings to the Board on 30 March, saying in its report: “In summary, we found that within the context of its operating environment, Watercare has achieved an appropriate level of water supply security and reliability; and is technically proficient in supply and demand management. The readiness and capability of its people, systems, processes, and assets was adequate to ensure continuity of water supply operations in the lead up period and during the drought.”
However, the report recommends that we engage more proactively with Auckland Council, businesses, and the community to develop a mutual understanding of the roles organisations and people play to ensure water security.
Devlin says that because Auckland’s water supply is very reliable, the implementation and impact of stage one restrictions in May 2020 took some people by surprise: “Auckland hadn’t had water restrictions for 25 years, so they were not on people’s radar. While we had a drought standard and response plan, these had not been socialised externally for many years. Going forward, we understand the need for ongoing conversations about Auckland’s water story and protecting our water supply.”
Over the next 12 months, we plan to engage with different communities, in partnership with the University of Auckland. Devlin says this will give us a strong understanding of people’s water literacy as well as their opinions on water resiliency in the face of droughts and climate change. We also plan to engage with commercial customers in the coming months to understand how we can better meet their needs, now and into the future.
“While water restrictions may have taken Aucklanders by surprise, their response has been phenomenal and worthy of praise,” says Devlin. “Since May (2020), they have collectively saved close to 15 billion litres which positively smashed our targets.”
We have been encouraging Aucklanders to reduce their water use since February 2020, three months before the restrictions were implemented. Devlin says that one year into the campaign, she’s delighted to see people are maintaining their water-efficient habits.
“It’s incredible that people have not become fatigued by our calls to save water, particularly when they’re also responding to Covid-19.”
Aurecon recommended we create an integrated water security programme which clearly sets out for everyone how Auckland will manage its water supply as climate conditions change. Devlin says this is being addressed through existing workstreams such as the development of a water strategy with Auckland Council and the update of the Asset Management Plan.
“Since August, we have been working with Auckland Council on a water strategy for the city which has water supply and demand as a key focus area. It is considering our approach between now and 2050, recognising the impact of climate change over this period and into the future. The strategy will go to councillors for review in October.
“Similarly, we are in the process of updating our Asset Management Plan which outlines how we will spend over $7.7 billion* over the next 20 years to ensure  Auckland’s water supply continues to be reliable in the face of population growth and climate change.”
While Aurecon has reviewed our response to the drought to date, our efforts are ongoing.
Since May 2020, we have increased the city’s water supply by 36 million litres a day by expanding the Waikato Water Treatment Plant and building the Pukekohe and Papakura water treatment plants. Work to expand the Onehunga Water Treatment Plant and to build a new Waikato Water Treatment Plant will deliver a further 54 million litres of water a day by June 2021. Our proactive leak detection programme is also delivering results, with estimated savings of over 5 million litres of water a day.
Devlin says the rate of decline in the city’s dams is about half what it was a year ago: “From 1 January to 15 February 2020, they were dropping 0.3% each day. Over the same period this year, the rate of decline is 0.17% a day. This is due to a combination of factors in our favour: reduced water demand, our new water supplies and a little bit of rain,” says Devlin.

* Nominal dollars. Dollars that are adjusted for inflation.

Supporting documents: