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.
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.
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?
- 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.
- Recognition that local rivers are precious and cannot be drained dry
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Water rates have been proven to lower water usage
- Better public education on water savings