Watercare issues dire warning of service failure to Auckland Council

Policy Parrot says:

This Parrot has received a copy of the Watercare Services submission on the Draft Auckland Unitary Plan and it makes for interesting reading.

There are more issues than this Parrot can bother blogging and the submission reads as one big hint of deeper more murkier issues relating to capital expenditure, income, depreciation, and the ability for the organisation to second guess where the market will want to go.

However a really big flag is raised in page 6 where Watercare say:

In particular the Unitary Plan indicates a substantial amount of infill intensification in suburban areas in the form of new Mixed Housing and Terraced Housing and Apartment Building zones. Together, these zones are extensive and cover approximately 56% of the residential zones in the existing metropolitan area. In a number of areas, the existing networks do not have enough capacity to cater for the full development potential of these zones as proposed in the draft PlanUnless upgraded there will be a loss of service in the water supply network (resulting in lower water pressure and fire fighting capability) and increases in the overflows from the wastewater network, potentially exceeding the design target of no more than two per discharge per location per year. 

Not weeks ago this Parrot raised the issue that the Council controlled infrastructure is stuffed. Part of that blog went so far as to suggest there is an issue where it concerns capacity of existing aged infrastructure and in particular the capacity of existing potable water supplies and this parrot hinted at the issues that water supply would have on fire fighting capability.

What nobody realises is that fire fighting capability is a serious issue and the lack of water supply to service buildings with sprinkled fire fighting systems if deficient could result in unintended consequences like death.

Firstly buildings need good water pressure so that the pump systems don’t suck them dry or cause the pipes to pop. Secondly when the fire departments turn up to big building fires they connect their fire trucks to the building and add pumping capacity as well as suck water for the purpose of fire hose pressure. The combination of creates a massive demand for water pressure.

If the potable water supply systems of Auckland are deficient and capacity is insufficient then there is risk that the systems designed to protect occupants of buildings could fail. If failure results in death Council is criminally negligent and potentially becomes implicit in criminal proceedings.

Then there is the insurance companies. Any half smart insurer will go for whomever they can to pay for the costs of building replacement. If they can demonstrate that a building is lost because fire systems were unable to adequately quell the fire due to insufficient water supply then Council is also potentially liable for the costs. Potentially.

Now Watercare have gone so far as to hint at the issue in a submission and that implies the issue is very serious.

This Parrot notes that Watercare is talking specifically about additional growth as intensification. What this Parrot also knows is that half of the CBD and surrounding suburbs is already at or below capacity. Recently Watercare turned down the pressure on their reticulated system in those locations and it is this Parrot’s suggestion that it is already a risk.

Add to that more people and the risks escalate.

That leads to questions about capital depreciation and capital spending priorities but really it’s about common sense and a call for the truth to be revealed about the quality and capacity of the existing infrastructure. Someone needs to be calling for an enquiry into the infrastructure of Auckland and why it is in this perilous state.


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  • Mr_Blobby

    Code for we want to put the cost of water up, again, how to justify.

    • OT Richter

      Nothing that a targeted rate won’t fix, which of course will put up the cost of building said properties. Watercare currently charges a “Growth Charge” of $7,800 to connect to the water and/or wastewater system, which is over and above building consent and resource consent fees that amount to approx $20K for a residential build. Add design and engineering to that and you are pushing $50K before you have turned a sod.

      • Mr_Blobby

        A rainwater tank and septic tank would be cheaper. Tell them to sod off.

        • OT Richter

          Did exactly that and now enjoying no Watercare bills and lovely fresh water. Inner- city folk don’t have that option. Solar hot water also, but that might get me pegged as a Green supporter.

  • cows4me

    Auckland’s housing issues in some way reflect what farmers have to face when buying a neighbouring property. On the face of it seems to be a simple case of buying the land or in Auckland’s case building houses. If only life was that simple. A dairy farmer will in most cases have to buy extra stock, buy extra shares, build a new dairy, increase or improve race ways, add and improve water reticulation, rearrange and build new fences, hire new or more labour, in short buying the land is usually the easy. I suspect high density housing in Auckland will produce issues not even thought of in the present time.

    • unitedtribes

      Makes you wonder why you try.

  • Euan Ross-Taylor

    Large areas of Otara are still limited to full sections because of lack of capacity in the sewerage system. We have been waiting years to be able to subdivide. We were told 5-7 years, 7 years ago, and there is still no sign of new pipes being laid. Mr Parrot, do you have any info on when this is likely to be sorted?

  • tarkwin

    Up sticks and move to Whangarei before the rush! Water pressure is great, bit of a problem with the sewers exploding every time it rains – should be fixed in time for the 2072 Olympics.

    • Mr_Blobby

      To close to Honki Hokiwera for my liking.

  • boristhefrog

    I’ve always wondered about the obvious question of infrastructure provision when you potentially double/treble the population in a given space – what Watercare and you highlight is that not enough thought has gone into this and the draft unitary plan risks being landfill simply because the existing systems cannot cope or won’t cope…

    Same goes for roads and power – it requires expensive and unpleasant digging up of roads/parks etc in order to ensure network robustness – and anyone who understand network economics will know… the network is only as strong as its weakest link….

    • Mr_Blobby

      The plan is to let to fail then introduce a permanent surcharge to fix the problem.

  • ratesarerevolting

    LBIAFC !

    • Dumrse

      Oh Do Da Day

  • Nick K

    Yeah, we’ll this didn’t happen overnight, or in the last three yrs.

  • firepersonbob

    Of course a sprinkler system in a building doesn’t necessarily need a connection to a reticulated water network , it can function with a tank of the appropriate size as example the Johnson hill tunnel (Puhoi) system has a 800,000 litre tank above it and no mains connection , however most around Auckland will have been designed to operate straight off the mains or boosted off the mains with a pump of some description , some possibly with in fill tanks that the pump draws off as the mains fill the tank. All designs dependant on what the building is and has inside , need more water for a large warehouse storing aerosols than you do for a school classroom as example.

    The reticulated water network , not just in Auckland but around the country has been well under maintained for a long time , councils are actively reducing water pressures to off set the lack of maintenance which is causing more and more losses through leaks , the lower the pressure the less the loss through leaks.

    With regards to sprinkler protected buildings there is a rigorous testing regime as part of the Building warrant of fitness ,part of this testing compares the actual water supply available to the design parameters of the sprinkler system when it was built and signed off by council .

    The reduction of pressure has caused some sprinkler system to fail these checks and wouldn’t operate as designed , not necessarily not working at all, maybe not as effective.

    the fire industry has been aware of this reduction for some years now , and normally when asked you will find the councils , water supply companies will quote legislation that says they must supply water for fire fighting but doesn’t stipulate how much!!

    Leaves the building owner options typically around installing tanks and diesel pump sets to ensure there is enough water coming out of the furthest away sprinkler . this can be k$40-k$60 from examples I have seen. This to satisfy Building warrant of fitness and insurance obligations.

    As an aside the councils can fine building owners and close buildings if they don’t meet BWOF requirements , these can be through the Notice to Fix regime available to the council through the Building Act . I know of a council that threatened via a property management company to close one a building because they the council had reduced the water supply and the sprinkler system would not operate as designed … the building was a council owned building !!! dorks !!

    • OT Richter

      and the building costs go up and up.

      Lower pressure means less consumption also.