John Porter

  The 1994 Auckland Water Supply Crisis... and the games some people play

1. Introduction 5. Watercare and Public reaction   9. Watercare Forecast (Graphic)
2. Background 6. Watercare contacts 10. Watercare Magic (Story)
3. Drought 7. Timeline of Events (Table) 11. Watercare Politics (Article)
4. Water crisis 8. Correspondence 12. Watercare Website

This is an account of an Indigenous weather modification solution that was presented to Watercare Services Ltd during the 1994 Auckland drought and water supply crisis. Although it was ignored as an alternative to the Waikato pipeline, it was the only option that delivered what was needed -- rainfall. The entire operation was successfully completed without public funding, media support, protracted debate, or fast-track legislation. Watercare benefited by 57-58 billion litres of water... FREE of charge. Compare this with the cost of between $95-120 million (Watercare estimates) for land or ocean tankers to supply Auckland's daily needs over a four month period... excluding water needed to fill the dams. 

Contrary to popular opinion, the rain that fell during the second half of the year was not due to coincidence or a religious | cultural ritual. Neither was it a random, unpredictable accident of Nature. Instead, it was the result of a deliberate and controlled process based on Indigenous science | technology.

When the objective was achieved, the process was terminated. Where's the proof? For a start, check the rainfall and dam levels before July and after October 1994. Check also the rainfall for the 12 months from July 1993 to June 1994. Then review personal contacts with Watercare in Sections 6 and 7 (above).

The reader will notice that

  • July rainfall and dam levels increased dramatically (when Watercare started the pipeline and I began an informal WM trial to prevent its completion).
  • August rainfall dropped to below average (90mm) after  Watercare postponed pipe construction and opposition from Waitakere City Council and Tainui Trust created further delays. An attempt was made to initiate discussion with Watercare, but when my proposal was rejected at the end of August there was no reason for further delay. Consequently...
  • September (208mm) and October (133.8mm) rainfall totals were the highest above-average monthly figures for the year, ultimately forcing Watercare to call an end to the crisis and a halt to the pipeline project.
  • November water storage reached 90% (a margin last recorded in December 1992). Levels began to drop as monthly rainfall returned to below average and by January 1995, the drought reappeared.
Note:  Was it a coincidence that rainfall stopped when dam levels reached 90%? Why not stop at 77% when Watercare declared the end of the crisis? The simple answer was that the only way to ensure that Watercare was totally committed to its decision to abandon the pipeline was to make it very obvious that there was no longer a water crisis to contend with. Stopping at the lower level would have allowed for some uncertainty which Watercare could later exploit to continue with its original plan.

To sum up - during the 4 months from July to the end of October, dam levels rose from 33% to 90%, an overall increase of 57% (equal to about 57 - 58 billion litres of water). For the same period, rainfall was about 590 mm, amounting to 60% of the annual total. By any standard, the results of the "trial" were impressive  --  especially when weather and water authorities were still predicting drought conditions just before and after the pipeline was cancelled. (For example, NIWA predicted that October would be drier than usual yet the actual rainfall total was almost double the monthly average)
This is supported by NZ Herald reports:

    "NIWA said yesterday that October could bring drier than usual weather... from Auckland to Gisborne... But it added that the number of depressions which caused the high rainfall in Auckland in September and the first week of this month "complicates the October climate outlook." (08.10.94)
    "Last month was dry over much of NZ - but not north of the Bombay Hills. The end of Auckland's water crisis on October 3 did not spell the end of a wet winter and spring... over the northern half of the North Island.... falls in the north were 20 to 60 per cent higher than average from Gisborne to Auckland. A senior institute scientist, Dr Jim Salinger, said forecasts had been correct for October over most of the country. The Auckland weather, he said, continued to be a challenge." (02.11.94) 

Indigenous weather modification was first suggested to Watercare in May 1994 as a relatively inexpensive and effective method of dealing with the water supply crisis. It was offered as a short-term solution to a specific problem. Watercare was given the opportunity to test it as part of its programme of assessing alternative sources of water while it continued with its primary interest, the Waikato pipeline. It would have taken no more than three weeks to validate the process and, properly supported, could have ended the supply problem by late July or early August, rather than October / November as happened.

The fact that the offer was declined suggests that Watercare was pursuing an agenda that served its own interests rather than those of the community. The NZ Herald (02.11.94) quotes the Mayor of Waitakere, Mr Bob Harvey, as saying Watercare "wanted to push ahead with the pipeline" and that it "had obtained a significant amount of equipment... during the crisis and wanted to protect its investment."
It would explain why my efforts to organize a meeting, discuss the WM proposal and conduct provisional trials were either ignored or diverted. Instead, Watercare persisted with the Waikato pipeline as Auckland's salvation. It was a typical bureaucratic solution, ie. inappropriate and an enormous waste of time, energy and money as was later revealed. Inevitably this decision like others displayed serious flaws when, inexplicably, the weather began to change.

By October, from the pipeline opponents' viewpoint, Watercare's decision to postpone all activity was the epitome of irony and poetic justice. The NZ Herald (06.10.94) called it a "Gilbertian pipeline drama". For another opinion of Watercare and the Waikato Pipeline - CLICK HERE.

Auckland occupies a narrow isthmus which is bordered in the west by the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean in the east. It is well endowed with beaches, parks, and apparently limitless water resources. Most parts are within a 20 kilometre radius of one coastline or other. It is also the largest city in New Zealand with a population of over 1 million. Its water needs are served by dams in nearby Waitakere and Hunua ranges which, prior to the creation of Watercare, were operated by the Water Services Division of the Auckland Regional Council.

Watercare Services Ltd was incorporated on 1 August 1991 and began independent operations when it took over the Water Services Division between 12 - 23 October 1992. Ownership of Watercare was transferred from the Auckland Regional Council to Auckland Regional Services Trust on 1 July 1993.

As at 1992-3, the asset value of Watercare was $401 million. Fixed asset value of $390 million was made up of 10 water storage dams, 6 treatment facilities, wastewater treatment plant and bulk water distribution and wastewater collection facilities. Maximum storage capacity was over 100 million cubic metres or 100 billion litres.

The Watercare board of directors at that time comprised BS Cole (Chair) RF Meyer (Dep Chair)  RG Law (CEO) SG Hall (Sec) and JN Duder, PB Wheeler, LJ Harre, PR Hadlee, PR Cook.

Watercare's main clients were the six Territorial Local Authorities of Auckland City, Manukau City, North Shore City, Papakura district, Waitakere City and Rodney district. The respective Mayors were; Les Mills, Sir Barry Curtis, Paul Titchener, David Hawkins, Bob Harvey, and Doug Armstrong.

3. DROUGHT 1994
According to news reports, since the beginning of 1993 to May 1994, Auckland had experienced less than normal rainfall and dam levels were less than a third full when they should have been three quarters full. 

"Watercare maintains that the first hint of this drought came in July 1993. Instead of an expected 230 mm of rain the region received 35 mm.... Watercare staff began to run different periods through their statistical model and concluded that the drought actually began in May 1991. For two years there was little impact on lake storage. By March this year [1994] Watercare's model calculated that the drought was a one-in-40-year event.... [Mark] Bourne: ' We had a drought and people didn't even know. Nothing was done about it,no hosing bans, no water restrictions, because the water supply was designed to cope with a one-in-50-year drought.' 
April this year was the turning point, the month when the drought, according to Watercare, declared itself. Metservice forecasts predicted a wetter-than-average April. The big dry was expected to end in June and July with the decline in the El Nino pattern. None of that happened. The rain did not come. The El NIno pattern held steady. It was from April that the drought slipped into an event that Watercare says the dam system was not built to cater for.
From November 1992 to June 1994 - the bulk of the period over which Watercare says the drought made itself felt - Auckland received 2586.3mm or 71 % of the 20-month average rainfall. Taking the last 12 months, the lack of rain becomes even more pronounced. The average July-to-June rainfall is 2242.5 mm. The actual rainfall for the 12 months from July 1993 is 1477mm, or 66% of the average... In the last 12 months the run-off into the dams has been 53% of average." 
(NZ Herald  30.7.94) 

The first public warning of a water supply problem came on January 12 with Watercare's advertising campaign to promote water conservation, but that had little effect. Intimations of a crisis surfaced on February 26 with the announcement that water restrictions would begin. Regular news releases of falling dam levels began - 43% by March 29, 41% by April 6, 40% by April 8, and so on. Water shortages were also announced for other parts of New Zealand such as Wanganui and the Kapiti coast. On April 13 in Auckland a total ban was imposed on the use of water sprinklers. By May 22 dam levels had fallen to 32.7%. Pictures of dried up lake beds appeared in newspapers and on television.

On May 25, the NZ Herald ran a scenario of what city life could be without water - queues of people waiting at stand-pipes in streets, malfunctioning sewage system, epidemic diseases, severe water rationing and the use of the Waikato river as an alternative major source of water. Finally, came the report that water supplies could run out by September or October if consumption was not drastically reduced.

On May 31, the NZ Herald announced that "the storage lakes would need more than 50 days of good rainfall until the beginning of October. Based on past weather records and on long term forecasts there is only a remote possibility of this happening." To Watercare's embarrassment, what was expected to be "a remote possibility" became an obvious reality between July and October. [See ' Watercare Forecast ' for more detail.]

Note:  This part of the crisis is well documented by The NZ Herald and only a brief outline of the major events is given below.
Water restrictions and savings targets - search for alternative water sources and solutions - Auckland Mayoral forum - local body in-fighting - NIWA and Watercare rainfall predictions - promotion of Waikato pipeline - Tainui consent - Government involvement - and of course, "The Big Question"... was it or wasn't it a drought | water crisis??

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First presented -- July 22, 1999
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