Auckland's Water Worries

Water was, and is, a major concern for the people of Auckland. The first European settlers used Maori water sources, personally collecting this necessity in barrels, buckets and pots from nearby streams and springs.

Te Ipu Pakore (the broken calabash), the most important water source for the Maungawhau Pa, was used last century by the early residents of Mt Eden. The spring and the stream flowing from it soon became an important social gathering place for the settlers. Women came to collect water, and wash clothes, while men used the stream to washed milk cans and other agricultural processing tools. Today, this spring is a swampy patch beside the railway line at the end of Water Street.

Wai Ariki (Chiefly Spring) was the water source for a Pa before it became an important place for visiting ships to fill their water barrels. The colonial military set up Albert Barracks and Fort Britomart close to the springs and later built the Old Government House. From 1845 to 1960 cordial and mineral water manufacturers bottled the water.

These, and other water supplies, quickly became too small for the growing city - and they became badly polluted by tannery works and sewage. A series of major fires spurred the development of Auckland's 1863 water development plan. Three years later, the first piped water supply was in place, bringing water from Domain Springs to the 12,000 people who lived in central Auckland.

The 1872 drought forced the city planners to bring in another pipeline. The Western Springs pipeline was the only major water supply for Auckland for more than 30 years. Then another spurt of development saw the building of the Waitakere Dam in 1910. By 1929 the Upper Huia Dam was finished and Auckland City now had 140,000 people.

In 1943, the City came to within a day of running out of water and work began on the Lower Nihotupu Dam and developing the Hunua catchments. In 1953, six kilometers of tunnels and 25 kilometers of pipe funneled water in from Cosseys Creek in the Hunua Ranges. By 1953, 125 million litres a day came from the Hunua catchments to provide water for the 320,000 people living in Auckland. New dams were built in 1965, 1971, 1975 and 1977 as the population of Auckland soared.

With the completion of ten dams in the Waitakere and the Upper Nihotupu catchment and the Hunuas, water supply seemed to be adequate. The water from these dams is pumped or gravity fed to five filter stations. After treatment, the water is pumped to 36 reservoirs at high points around Auckland, ready for distribution. The system has a safe yield of 346 million litres of water a day.

In the late 1980's the population was again exceeding the water supply. The Auckland Regional Council began a major water conservation awareness programme. The more water Aucklanders could save, the longer it would be before additional water sources needed to be developed. During the drought of 1995 about a million people in the Auckland area were within a few days of running out of water. They were able to divert a disaster by severe water conservation measures. Even with sound water conservation, however, the growth of the area demands additional water. At present, the plan is to build a tunnel to the Waikato River.

Before Auckland's water arrives at homes and businesses, it is treated in a series of steps. First, the water is of high quality as it originates in forested catchment systems essentially free of contamination by animals, wastewater and agricultural and industrial chemicals. In the storage lakes, the water is oxygenated to prevent naturally-occurring elements such as manganese from going into solution and later precipitating in distribution pipes.

The water goes from the reservoir to filter stations that remove any coloration from vegetation or cloudiness after a heavy rainfall using an aluminium compound to precipitate out organic matter. The cleaned water is passed through a sand bed to clean it. Finally fluoride is added for dental health, chlorine is added to kill bacteria, and lime is added to reduce acidity.

Since the reservoirs in the mountains, the water flows by gravity to 42 distribution reservoirs located at high points around the Auckland isthmus. The status of the reservoirs and pumping stations are monitored by a central Regional Operations Centre in Onehunga.

There are more than 460 kilometres of mains, conduits and tunnels, with an average flow of 320 million litres a day. Watercare Services Ltd is responsible for delivering the water to local councils. Once the water reaches council distribution points, the councils take over responsibility for local distribution to homes and businesses.


The more water that flows into an area, the more water must flow out of it. And since the vast majority of water is used to dispose of wastes, the effluent problems of Auckland grew apace of the water supply problems.

The late1800's saw a major epidemic of typhoid, cholera, and other water-borne diseases in Auckland. It had the worse health record of any New Zealand city. Sewage was collected in "nightsoil" containers and dumped in waterways or street drains. The city undertook a major sewage drainage system at about the same time piped water was introduced to the city. The drains, however, discharged the sewage directly into the waterways and harbours and polluted the beaches and sea-water baths.

In 1910 the Orakei Main Sewer and storage tanks took the raw sewage to an outfall into the Waitemata Harbour at Orakei. The Manukau Harbour received raw sewage from major sewer lines at Onehunga and Otahuhu in 1910. Mt Roskill and New Lynn added their wastes to the Manukau Harbour in the min 1920's.

Although many people complained about the pollution of the water and shellfish, the situation continued until 1951 when Bathing Beach Water Quality Standards were drawn up. By 1954 a project began to connect all the sewers and trade wastes discharges into a main sewerage system to service the whole metropolitan area. The Sewage Treatment Plant was commissioned in 1960. By the early 1970's the plant was overloaded and had to be redesigned with large "fixed growth reactors." Odours continued to be a concern of local residents until 1991 when a system was set up to extract and deodorise the foul air.

The plant continued to pollute Manukau Harbour and the old city sewers frequently overflowed into Waitemata Harbour. A plan has been drawn up by WaterCare Services Ltd. to rebuild the wastewater treatment plant and maintain pollution free effluent conditions by the year 2006.

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