Watercare are feeling the heat

Watercare are feeling the heat.

The type of heat that – at first – is warm. But before you know it, it has quickly turned into a full-blown pants-on-fire experience.

Last week I pointed out that Watercare have only 10% capacity today in their network for approximately 45,000 connections. That’s not only a tiny amount, it’s also a bit of a looming problem.

Simple maths says that if Auckland is growing at 8,000 dwellings a year (plus commercial space) the network capacity is in the kaka.

Turns out Watercare didn’t really like us pointing that out.

Watercare response to Whale Oil article ‘How will Watercare support intensification when their network is stretched already?’

Watercare strongly refutes suggestions by blog Whale Oil that their networks cannot service a growing Auckland.

The statement published on Whale Oil claiming that Watercare has 10 percent capacity remaining in its existing water supply and wastewater network does not reflect the extent of Watercare’s planned investments that will accommodate Auckland growth.

There are currently about 430,000 homes and businesses connected to the Watercare network, which has capacity for approximately 45,000 new homes and businesses to connect today.

Every year Watercare invests hundreds of millions in growth-related projects. This year, the organisation is spending $150 million on projects to cater for a growing population. Next year, Watercare plans to invest $200 million.  

This growing annual investment enables Watercare to continually expand its network capacity to keep ahead of the Auckland’s increasing demand for water and wastewater services.

Over the next 20 years, Watercare will be investing $5 billion dollars into water and wastewater infrastructure across the Auckland region to provide capacity for a further 300,000 connections.   

Watercare projects currently in construction include:

Hunua 4 bulk watermain – $400 million

A 32-kilometre-long pipe running from Redoubt Road to Khyber Pass to cater for population growth and increase the security of water supply to the Auckland region. It is currently under construction and already in service as it progresses through the city. Once complete, it will provide security of supply to 750,000 people and is capable of supplying another 500,000 people – and would be able to  fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool in 15 minutes.

Waikato Water Treatment Plant upgrade – $49 million

Increasing capacity of the Waikato Water Treatment Plant by a further 25 million litres a day to enable it to treat up to 175 million litres a day. The project was brought forward from its planned 2020 start date in response to the increasing likelihood of drought events and is now expected to be completed by 2017. Two subsequent capacity upgrades are planned for 2027 (to treat an additional 50 million litres a day) and in 2035 (to treat an additional 100 million litres a day) to meet growing demand for drinking water.

North Harbour No. 2 watermain – $264 million

A watermain to help to service growth areas in Auckland’s north by bringing treated water from the west to the new Albany Reservoir that was completed in November 2015.

Mangere Wastewater Treatment Plant – $200 million
Currently under way at the Mangere Wastewater Treatment Plant is the construction of an additional Biological Nutrient Removal (BNR) facility to increase treatment capacity by 2018 to serve an additional 250,000 people and ensure continued compliance with consent conditions.

Pukekohe Wastewater Treatment Plant and trunk sewer system – $120 million

Over $120M of investment to meet growth of 30,000 people, to be completed in stages by 2019.

Glendowie branch sewer – $30 million

To meet growth from the Tamaki redevelopment and adjoining land.

I quoted one of Watercare’s own presentations.



But that aside, the fact is the network is more than large interconnector pipes from Hunua to the city or sewerage plant upgrades.

The problem has long been known to exist at local levels. The pipes in the streets are rooted and under capacity too.

I don’t believe that Watercare have any capital expenditure plans to start ripping up streets and replacing old pipes.

Like all those calcified CBD and isthmus pipes that are on reduced pressure. You can feed more water to the storage tank but all the pipes thereafter are drip feeding water throughout the city.

Or the over-capacity sewer in Onehunga that limits connections and makes developers lose their will to live.

What about the small neighbourhood pump stations that need upgrading?

How about the combined sewer pipes in the Western Bays? I recall that Eden Terrace still has issues when it floods and combines with sewer.

Hey and let’s not forget the fact that our city’s below-ground street pipes are under capacity anyhow. And that’s because they were only designed for existing uses, not the added intensification. So when do these get replaced? Because they are mostly at capacity.

Property developers will tell you for free that the big city interconnectors mean very little because the street network is also stuffed.

And Watercare aren’t paying attention to that.

I could bang about time frames as well. In fact, I might just do that tomorrow. The maths ain’t too good so we better make sure they have it ready, installed and useful in time for the intensification. Don’t want to hold them to ransom.

Watercare do have a problem. And it’s this: whether they spend money or not, it’s not enough, in the right places or at the right time. And so they risk log-jamming the city and running out of capacity.


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  • shykiwibloke

    “There are currently about 430,000 homes and businesses connected to the Watercare network, which has capacity for approximately 45,000 new homes and businesses to connect today.” – looks pretty close to 10% left to me – assuming current infrastructure is perfect, and the additional capacity is evenly spread across the city – that is two years growth left. If I was the reporter I would be asking how much additional capacity will the planned project deliver – and will they all be completed within two years?

    • biscuit barrel

      Only a small number are added every year in inner isthmus, most growth is outer areas,.
      Dont need to worry, the peak flow is only once a week for ‘washing day’, and thats not increasing as people spread washing through week, and those big F&P top loaders are replaced with less water in front loaders

  • Mark156

    Logjamming…good one

  • KGB

    Taking the infrastructure to ‘the people’ only works when it is affordable.
    Whangaporoa is the perfect example. There having been connections provided at the gate to all peninsula homes now for years, yet the Water Carrier industry is still thriving.
    Many homes cannot afford connection and have continued with their catchment supplied free rain water. In times of drought a couple of loads of water per summer is far cheaper than a WaterCare connection and ongoing water bills, & storm-water charges.
    Not to mention the over-chlorination rejection of town supply.

    • Aucky

      We have had a holiday home on the Tawharanui Peninsula since the early 80s and we rely totally on a mix of bore water (toilets, laundry, garden purposes) and rain water (drinking, cooking, showers) and haven’t called the water truck in yet. Why doesn’t Auckland City allow rainwater storage tanks in suburban areas even if the water is just used for watering the garden or washing down the house or car?

      • OT Richter

        AC does allow rainwater storage tanks, but the problem is often the lack of space to install a tank(s) big enough to be totally off-grid. The Watercare charges are all or nothing i.e there is no discount from the connection charge if you are on partial tank supply.

        For a 4 person family and a bit of garden watering, 2 x 22,000 litre tanks are required to get through a dry summer (YRMV). That’s 2 tanks at 3.6m dia and approx 2.2m high – a relatively large area and unsightly also. Options for in-ground tanks exist, but can be cost-prohibitive.

        • biscuit barrel

          Thats right. Putting in rainwater tanks is welcomed in most urban areas for gardening, washing the car, and if you want, flushing the toilet. using it for drinking is ruled out because the rain water is too polluted mostly but small particles from vehicle exhauts- you dont want to be drinking that!
          Watercare connection charges are only a small part of the bill- only when you are on a meter, a lot of Auckland is still on a flat annual charge for water and sewerage. See if you can have a meter installed installed that will sort out your consumption reduction. Mine is only 5m3 a month which is $33 or so.

          • Aucky

            Thanks b.b. Much appreciated.

      • KGB

        Most suburban areas would already be connected I would imagine?
        Last I heard a connection was $14k.
        So those newly connected suburbs like Huapai, Parikai, Kumeu, etc will surely do the sums like Whangaporua did?

  • In Vino Veritas

    Another question that needs to be asked of Watercare: In light of all the capital works that are programmed, has cash matching depreciation of the current network been kept aside to fund these capital works, and if not (the implication is that someone is going to have to pay twice), where has it all gone?

    • biscuit barrel

      There isnt the big problem with the smaller end of the branch network-
      “The pipes in the streets are rooted and under capacity too.”
      Just isnt the case for almost all the city- I used to work for those doing small subdivisions many years ago.And the minimum pipe size and the hilly nature of Auckland meant the capacity was mostly well over that required. Old pipes are remarkably resilient, and modern methods can be used to re line a few that arent. The 50-60 year design life is a just an accounting measure, not a real world based on inspection.

      The above ground trunk sewer across Hobson bay was replaced by a tunnel, which had the advantage of removing an eyesore and being bigger could act as a storage tank for holding back the outflow to Mangere. All the inner city sewers are mostly fine, their problem was the stormwater wasnt separate, which can be fixed by new SW only pipes

      • Platinum Fox

        The combined sewers in the inner west have been listed for separation for 40 years and, if there has been any progress, it’s been very slow as there hasn’t been the funding to get the work done (the contrast between availability of funding for that task and of funding for replacing footpaths is remarkable). I was required by council to separate the systems in a villa reno that was completed in 1983. There is still no separate stormwater pipe in that street.
        Only last week Mike Lee claimed that the SHA on the Gables site should not proceed as the combined sewer would not be able to cope with the number of units proposed. The council’s solution to the problem has for some years now been that if there is to be any addition to roof area as part of a reno then a holding tank is required to retain roof run-off for later release into the combined sewer.

  • coventry

    I wonder why they switch from the terminology of ‘households/dwellings’ to ‘people’ – are they trying to exaggerate ?

    • OT Richter

      Perhaps people are easier to track/count via census results.

  • Rick H

    Time to go back to drinking water from a tank filled with roof run-off, like we all had a couple of years back?
    Well, perhaps a couple of generations.