New Zealand’s Capital City Is Running out of Water

By Rebecca Zhu
Rebecca Zhu
Rebecca Zhu
Rebecca Zhu is based in Sydney. She focuses on Australian and New Zealand national affairs. Got a tip? Contact her at rebecca.zhu@epochtimes.com.au.
August 5, 2022 Updated: August 8, 2022

The capital city of New Zealand, Wellington, is struggling to provide enough water to meet demand, meaning water restrictions during the upcoming summer are almost inevitable.

A report by Wellington Water told local councils that due to limited funding, it was unable to sufficiently maintain its aging water infrastructure, with many assets already beyond the nominal end-of-life.

The region has seen ongoing issues with leaking pipes and overflowing sewage, and Wellington Water is constantly flooded with incident requests.

“It is now probable that more severe water use restrictions, including total residential outdoor water use bans, and potentially restrictions, on internal usage within private properties, will be required this summer and in the following years until major investments are completed,” Wellington Water wrote in its report (pdf).

It highlighted the sheer number of leaks as the primary reason for the increasing water demand.

“We are currently seeing daily water use similar to levels we would normally only expect in summer,” it said.

Due to limited funding, the company said its priority had been shifted towards reactive maintenance away from planned maintenance, which had “not been ideal.”

“We are placing pressure on reactive maintenance budgets this year to release funding for key planned maintenance activities to continue,” it said.

Wellington Water also noted that New Zealand businesses were facing acute labour shortages and that there would be future wage pressures as inflation rises.

“We are thinking very carefully about how to retain our staff,” it said.

Earlier in March, the company said it was unable to reach its own target of having no sewage discharges.

It estimates that it needed over $300 million (US$190 million) per year in infrastructure investment to replace aged assets, meet higher operating costs, and increase environmental performance (pdf).

Centralised Water Reform

It comes as the central government is making a major push to centralise the entire nation’s water resources to be managed by four publicly owned water entities.

The Ardern administration argues that “historic underinvestment” by local councils, stricter water safety and environmental regulations, and the need to account for public growth had led to the proposal.

“The investment needed to fix our failing systems and to build and maintain the required infrastructure in the future has been estimated at between $120 billion (US$75.5 billion) and $185 billion over the next 30 years. This will be beyond the reach of many communities,” the Department of Internal Affairs wrote on its website.

Many local councils have expressed deep concerns, particularly pertaining to the significant loss of local voice when it comes to their regions’ water supplies.

Oliver Hartwich, the executive director of the New Zealand Initiative think tank, told The Epoch Times that the central government in Wellington accounted for over 90 percent of the taxes collected in the country, meaning local councils lacked tax funds to address local issues.

“It would be much better if … we had strong local communities and local income taxes so the communities can actually plan for the stuff that they need,” he said.

Rebecca Zhu
Rebecca Zhu is based in Sydney. She focuses on Australian and New Zealand national affairs. Got a tip? Contact her at rebecca.zhu@epochtimes.com.au.