Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Hamilton Mayor calls for end to reliance on Waikato River

Hamilton City Council is urging Watercare to reduce its reliance on the Waikato River by developing a new water source.

The Council is one of 39 submitters who have opposed Watercare’s application to take a further 150 million litres of water per day from the river. The application was originally made to the Waikato Regional Council but was referred to a Board of Inquiry in June 2020.

Other submitters opposed include Federated Farmers, Waipā District Council, Waikato River Authority, Waikato-Tainui and the Director General of Conservation Waikato.

Submitters have raised concerns on a range of issues, including effects on cultural values, potential impacts on the health of the river, and a potential shortage of available water over the long term and associated effects on the region’s economy. Of the 55 submitters, 70% oppose the application.

Hamilton City Council has opposed Watercare’s request to ensure the city “has a voice at the table” and not because it point-blank opposes a further water take, Hamilton Mayor Paula Southgate said.

“It’s the extent of the proposed take we’re concerned about. We recognise and support the need for Auckland to urgently access water in the short-term and we will continue to help Auckland as much as we can. But that comes with an important rider,” she said.

“Our city cannot support a 35-year resource consent which would see plenty of water for Auckland but which could limit the availability of water for others in the long term, and therefore compromise the economy of Hamilton and the wider region. That’s what we’re concerned about.”

Hamilton City’s existing resource consent expires in 2044 and the city says its existing allocation from the Waikato River should provide just enough water until then. In June last year, Hamilton provided the short-term release of some of its allocation to Auckland to help the city deal with acute water shortages.

But long-term population projections show future water demand for Hamilton and the wider region will exceed Hamilton City Council’s existing allocation beyond 2044. So in future, Hamilton will have less – if any – water to spare, and will need to secure additional water from the Waikato River to accommodate that long- term growth.

“If Watercare gets a 35-year consent, there will be limited availability of water in the Waikato River which potentially locks Hamilton and Hamilton industry out of a critical resource,” Mayor Southgate said.

“That is unacceptable to our Council and really should be unacceptable to everyone. Hamilton and the Waikato contribute a huge amount to the national economy and we need to continue doing that.”

The city’s position is supported by economist Dr Doug Fairgray of Market Economics who provided expert evidence to the Board. He notes Watercare’s economic evidence focuses almost exclusively on what the proposed take would mean for Auckland’s medium-term economic future. He says there is minimal consideration of implications for economies and communities in the Waikato, and of the long-term and very long-term implications.

Mayor Southgate, however ,remains confident a “pragmatic and workable” solution will be found that meets Auckland’s needs, while protecting the city’s economy and the health of the river.

“Our aim is to work together with Watercare and Iwi to find a way through and I’m confident we can do that within this process. That’s why we’re at the table,” she said.

In its evidence, Hamilton wants to limit the term of the Watercare consent to 20 years and ensure that, by the end of 20 years, that water take is substantially reduced. Hamilton also wants Watercare to report on practical steps taken during the during the term of its consent to move to an alternative supply source.

“Watercare says that over the long-term, an alternative source of water will be needed to deal with Auckland’s growth and that is most likely a desalination plant. What we haven’t seen is a commitment to establish that alternative within a defined timeframe,” Mayor Southgate said.

“Whatever the alternative solution, we believe any consent must be conditional on Auckland making measurable progress towards that alternative and gradually reducing its reliance on the river.  We need that water ourselves to support the Waikato’s future.”

Mayor Southgate said it is critical that any decision keeps the health of the Waikato River “front and centre”.

“Given what’s at stake, economically, environmentally and culturally, Council is seeking a solution that will allow both regions to prosper on terms that are culturally acceptable,” she said.

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