Saturday, December 4

Goff interrogates Watercare for direct answers on its preparedness for climate change


Watercare has yet to integrate climate change into its long-term modeling tools, and Auckland Mayor Phil Goff is concerned.

Now experts are wondering why the council-controlled organization has moved so slowly on such a critical issue.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff questioned Watercare's head of sustainability Chris Thurston at the Auckland Council's environment and climate change committee meeting earlier this month.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff questioned Watercare’s head of sustainability Chris Thurston at the Auckland Council’s environment and climate change committee meeting earlier this month.
Photo: Supplied

“Yeah, the … aah … project um … is in flight. Sorry, I don’t have an end date.”

That’s Watercare’s head of sustainability, Chris Thurston, answering Auckland Mayor Phil Goff’s question about when Watercare will start integrating climate change into its long-term modeling tool. Thurston was providing an update on the Auckland Council’s Environment and Climate Change Committee meeting on August 12 on the CCO’s work to reduce emissions.

After outlining a number of initiatives Watercare is undertaking, Goff asked Thurston for an update on the 2019 Auckland Council request for the CCO to integrate climate change into its modeling tools.

After some initial confusion – the mayor needed to ask two more clarifying questions – Thurston admitted that work to update the Integrated Source Management Model (ISMM) had only just begun. “The model does not include the information, but it is being integrated as we speak,” he said.

“The fact that it is not in the tool does not mean that we do not take those considerations into account,” he added, explaining that the availability of water is a separate area of ​​work that Watercare staff do analyze.

Since then, Goff has said, through a spokesperson, that he does not believe he has received an adequate answer to his questions and is especially concerned about the council’s plans to spend $ 10 billion on new investments in Watercare over the next 10 years.

“It is crucial that this model reflects climate reality as it is used to support decision making around water supply, resilience and investment in infrastructure,” he said.

“Since the emergency budget was approved, we have increased the supply by almost 100 million liters per day. Despite this, the levels of Auckland’s dams remain around 25 percent below normal levels, reflecting the severity of the drought and underscoring why integrating climate change into the ISMM is critical. “

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta said Watercare’s delays in developing an integrated model underscores why the government’s national water reforms are necessary. “I would hope that Watercare has incorporated climate change into its water demand model [so] it is encouraging that they are doing so now, “he said.

“Under the Three Waters reform, I anticipate that such initiatives will be developed with sophistication and timeliness throughout the country so that we can better predict and manage our essential water services.”

Antennas and stills of the Upper Mangatangi dam at 44% capacity

Watercare’s Upper Mangatangi Dam in Hunua is 44 percent full as of mid-2020.
Photo: RNZ / SIMON ROGERS

In a subsequent written statement, Chris Thurston from Watercare said that in addition to the ISMM tool, Watercare’s drought management plans do take into account climate change and said the delay in updating the ISMM tool is due to the amount of information to add to the software.

“Integration of climate change projections is the current phase in a variety of updates to this tool. This requires a significant reduction in climate data for all of our source water catchments. This reduction in global models for the The water supply is completed with external parts and we expect it to be operational in 12-18 months. “

But Victoria University Wellington freshwater ecologist Dr. Mike Joy shares the mayor’s concerns and says “it’s amazing.” Watercare’s modeling tools have yet to integrate climate change.

“Given everything they do, especially the supply of drinking water, sewage and storm water, it will be hugely affected by projections of climate change.

“This is a really sad accusation about preparing for climate change when New Zealand’s largest three-water company owned by the Auckland Council has failed to take climate change into account when everything they do is at the mercy of what they do. predicts “.

Dr. Judy Lawrence is a Principal Investigator at the Climate Change Research Institute at Victoria University of Wellington and has conducted research for Watercare on how climate change will affect its services.

She said that although she had not been involved in the Watercare modeling project, the delays in the development of these models “is a national problem in all municipalities and water services.”

“Some of the reasons relate to the way boards operate in governance and professional silos, slow planning cycles, staff capacity and capacity, lack of political direction, mixed messages, lack of funding for adaptation and the way the law is drafted. “

As Auckland residents enjoy an unusually mild August, coupled with continued water restrictions, Manurewa-Papakura District Councilor Daniel Newman cautions that the city’s underdeveloped infrastructure must remain a priority.

“Auckland suffered from a drought, that’s not climate change,” he said, adding that climate change will bring more droughts.

“Auckland people should be very concerned that the infrastructure is not at scale to accommodate our growing population.

“Watercare’s infrastructure and planning officers work tirelessly to meet demand from the region. But Watercare does not address the scale, timing and location of growth that puts incredible pressure on its network.”

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Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by RNZ, the Association of News Publishers, and NZ On Air.


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