Tanks a lot

By: Wayne Walker

Tankwater households on the Hibiscus Coast deserve recognition and support.

They highlight an important contribution to resilience, water conservation and civil defence in times of drought.

Were it not for the Waikato pipeline top-up, Auckland’s water supply would be well down with water restrictions in place everywhere.

Australian cities have long accepted and encouraged water tanks for rainwater harvesting and grey water (laundry and bathroom water) reuse. Financial incentives, rebates, bylaws and city planning make water tank installation compulsory for new builds in many cities.

Decentralised water tanks are accepted as the equivalent of large dams. Tankwater technology has come a long way with tanks in all shapes, sizes and configurations to suit installation under driveways and lawns, decks, along fencelines – wherever there’s space. The cost of pumps is going progressively down and there’s the opportunity to power them from home generated solar electricity.

Auckland and New Zealand need to promote tankwater. Watercare could offer rebates for water tank installation and the fixed wastewater charge should be much lower, reflecting the reality of low water consumption by tankwater households – rather than the high cost penalty that currently applies. Watercare now has some years of consumption records from tankwater households with water meters on their water supply to evidence this.  
Our planning requirements should make water tanks compulsory – for stormwater, water supply, resilience and climate emergency reasons. Bylaws need changing to make greywater reuse compliant and easy – for example so that toilets and gardens can use shower instead of drinking water.

We take water too much for granted in Auckland. Cities like Melbourne on the other hand view the entire city as a catchment that can be as water self-sufficient as possible; many parks are irrigated from stormwater instead of drinking water and households have for years been encouraged and incentivised to have water tanks.

On the Hibiscus Coast we could have low cost top-up facilities available in times of need using Watercare’s network of pipes and street valves; long hoses could reach many households. Advice should be actively and enthusiastically promoted on water conservation techniques and fixes such as flow regulators and the interruptible flush devices for toilets promoted in Auckland’s 1994 water crisis. Easy to carry top-up containers should be widely available; in a civil defence emergency that involved a cut to reticulated water supplies, we would need these.

When the drought has broken, we can look back and ask what could have been done better. How can we be better prepared next summer or in a future drought? The back-up of water tank deliveries has highlighted how important this is. 

I have a long to-do list of follow-up actions across a range of council committees – from Civil Defence, through Planning and Infrastructure, Environment and Community, Healthy Waters – and with Watercare, a Council Controlled Organisation. There are short term and longer term responses that will require a rethink in some areas. 

A big thank you to the Hibiscus Coast community who stepped up to the challenge, helped their neighbours and got us through it.

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