Thames-Coromandel has longest NZ drought – Auckland’s Water Crisis. Why were warnings ignored?

Thames-Coromandel has just spent 95 consecutive days in drought – the longest drought period for any district in NZ since the drought index was introduced in 2007.  Severe water shortages lasted for six months in eastern Coromandel and Auckland faces a water crisis.  Climate scientists have been warning us for decades these damaging droughts would occur.  So why have Thames-Coromandel, Auckland and many other councils ignored these warnings and left their communities desperately short of water?

This NIWA chart confirms that Thames-Coromandel has had the longest drought in New Zealand since records began in 2007.


Warnings ignored

Climate scientists warnings about more droughts go back at least 20 years.  For example this projection from a 2001 report –  “Eastern regions could experience more frequent, and potentially more severe, droughts through a combination of higher average temperatures, reduced average rainfall, and greater variability of rainfall”

The link between climate change and more frequent drought is well documented

Why no action then?

TCDC holds a 2006 resource consent to supply water to Whitianga that expires in 2025.  The 2006 consent decision noted that the 19-year consent duration provided sufficient time for TCDC to consider other options to upgrade the water supply.  Since 2006 TCDC has not heeded the warning from scientists of more frequent droughts, or made any attempt to upgrade the Whitianga water supply.

In spite of the severe water shortages this summer, TCDC still chose not to immediately investigate alternative options for the Whitianga supply.

Stuff article

We are grossly under-prepared

Numerous reports have confirmed that New Zealand is grossly under-prepared for more frequent drought.

The costs of drought due to climate change are much higher than previously thought

New research by Kiwi climate scientists has found the 2007 and 2013 droughts – which the Treasury estimates led to $4.8 billion in lost GDP – were seriously exacerbated by climate change.  $800 million in lost GDP was due to climate change – one sixth of the total damages.  God knows what the cost of the 2019 – 2020 drought will be, but it is likely to be much higher.

What to do?

  1. Councils need to take their head out of the sand and plan well in advance for an adequate water supply in times of drought.  Accepting and acting on climate science that says droughts will be more intense and frequent would also be a great start.
  2. Recognition that local rivers are precious and cannot be drained dry
  3. There needs to be limits placed on unrestrained subdivision and intensification of urban settlements.  Local communities – particularly on the east coast of the Coromandel are already struggling to provide sufficient water supplies as droughts intensify.
  4. We need development controls for any new subdivision which requires on-site storage by property owners and incentives/subsidies for existing owners to store water on their properties
  5. Controls for separation of drinking water from grey water with the latter being available for recycling for non-drinking uses such as toilet flushing, car and boat washing, watering of gardens and lawns etc.
  6. Water rates have been proven to lower water usage
  7. Better public education on water savings

2 thoughts on “Thames-Coromandel has longest NZ drought – Auckland’s Water Crisis. Why were warnings ignored?

  1. I would seem to me that all householders in Thames/Coromandel and especially in Whitianga should be encouraged/helped to put in water-storage tanks on their property and hook it up to their roof. Water storage is the biggest issue, it must be because Coromandel gets plenty of rain in the winter months. We simply dont have enough water storage capacity in the face of climate change and increasing droughts. As well as subsidising the cost of water storage for rate payers, TCDC needs to extend reservoirs so they will be adequate to last through the increasing drought. There is no point in draining rivers dry during droughts when all it takes is to store more water during the winter months. Some of the climate change mitigation finding needs to be diverted to water storage urgently.


    • I generally agree with what Cr Tegg says. Our bach is already on tank water and as a townie used to a constant supply I have learned the need to be careful with water consumption over the past few years as we have stayed for three months and this year for six. We have saved buckets of our grey water from the washing machine to use on the garden in the long dry. Intrigued by your point 5, separating grey water from drinking water but can it be done cheaply and easily? Overall I think it better for the WRC and TCDC to incentivise home owners, possibly with rates discounts or subsidies, to install roof water tanks than expensive infrastructure projects like building new reservoirs.


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