Auckland water crisis: Ban on watering gardens, washing cars may be lifted for summer

Aucklanders will be able to water their gardens, wash their cars and use water blasters once again if Auckland councillors approve the relaxation of water restrictions on Thursday.

Based on advice from Watercare, council officers believe there is sufficient water and projected rainfall heading into summer to ease restrictions following one of the worst droughts in the city’s history.

They are recommending households can use an outdoor hose or water blaster with a trigger nozzle from December 14. However the ban on water sprinklers would remain.

Since May 16, the city’s 1.7 million residents have been banned from washing cars, houses and watering the garden with an outdoor hose in response to the city’s dam levels plunging to dangerously low levels as the result of the long summer drought.

The rules were relaxed on October 12 to allow businesses to use hoses with a trigger nozzle outdoors. Commercial car washes also resumed and sports fields, plants and paddocks could be watered with irrigation systems fitted with soil moisture or rain sensors.

At the time, Ian Maxwell, council’s director of executive services, said:”Auckland is not out of the woods yet.”

A report going to the council’s governing body on Thursday said there had been no runaway demand as a result of the easing of commercial water restrictions.

“As we move into summer the current water restrictions will impact activities such as gardening and property cleaning. This has flow-on economic impacts on the retail sector including hardware and garden centres and associated suppliers.

“Based on advice from Watercare, positive dam storage levels, rainfall, new water supply infrastructure and the revised weather forecasts, staff now consider it is appropriate to consider adjusting residential water restrictions in the lead up to summer,” said a report prepared by senior water staff and authorised by chief executive Jim Stabback.

The report said dam storage levels have risen from 67.5 per cent full on September 21 to 72.47 per cent full on November 18 – above the trigger level for voluntary savings in a normal year.

What’s more, the officers said heavy bursts of rain, consistent with recent LaNiña events, are forecast for December and January. New supplies of water, including extra water from the Waikato River, are also expected to come into service.

However, the officers said the council still needs to balance the risk of easing water restrictions.

“Summer water use in the residential sector is dominated by outdoor use, in particular for garden and household maintenance. Easing water restrictions for our communities may have positive social and economic wellbeing outcomes for Auckland residents.

“In addition, Aucklanders have responded to and exceeded the targets for water savings over the restriction period. This said, there is some risk that if the expected La Niña rainfall does not eventuate and the dams are not replenished further severe water restrictions may be necessary,” the report said.

They have recommended a small group of councillors – Mayor Phil Goff, deputy mayor Bill Cashmore and Watercare liaison councillor Linda Cooper – be delegated authority to change the water restrictions, up or down, over the summer recess period.

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