Water restrictions in a dry summer

Many areas of New Zealand are facing water restrictions this summer. This is because in summer it rains less and demand for water is high, as people water their gardens or fill swimming pools, or children play in water outside. With an increasing population, there is not enough water, particularly if there are problems with water infrastructure.

One of the most affected is Wellington, where the problem is made worse by leaking pipes around the city. On 17 January Wellington moved to level 2 restrictions, which means that all unattended watering systems, such as sprinklers and irrigation systems, are banned. In other words, people can only water their gardens if they hold a hose in their hand. If the warm weather continues and there is little rain, it is quite likely that Wellington will move to level 3 restrictions, so all outdoor residential use for water would be banned, or even level 4, so on top of the ban, residents would be advised to take two-minute showers and only do one load of washing per person a week.

Many people in Wellington are frustrated because they are being asked to reduce their water use, but there is a lot of water lost from leaking pipes. Some pipes are 100 years old. There are currently around 3000 leaks, and 45% of the water supply is being lost. The pipes are owned by the City Council, and Wellington Water is the organisation which runs the water system. In December Wellington Water fixed 552 leaks, but there are many more waiting to be fixed. Some leaks are only small when they start, but by the time Wellington Water fixes them, thousands of litres of water have been lost. For example, there was a leak on Lambton Quay, one of the city’s main streets, which was fixed 33 days after it was first reported. Wellington Water has told the councils that it will cost $1 billion per year for the next 10 years to fix the region’s water system.

Other cities and regions in New Zealand are also under water restrictions. Like Wellington, South Wairarapa (including Featherston, Greytown and Martinborough) is at level 2 restrictions and there are more than 100 leaks in the system. In New Plymouth, residents can use handheld hoses to water their gardens every second day, depending on their address – odd-numbered homes on odd-numbered days, and even-numbered homes on even-numbered days. There are similar restrictions in Napier and Hastings, where watering is only allowed between 6am and 8am, and between 7pm and 9pm. In the South Island, Nelson is at stage D of their restrictions, which means that residents can only use buckets to water fruit and vegetable plants, and buckets of grey water (for example, water from a washing machine) to wash cars. In Picton and Waikawa, the Council has told residents to take a short shower, turn off the tap when brushing their teeth, and not to wash their car or use the garden hose. People in Southland can only water gardens by hand between 7pm and 7am. Timaru District Council has just announced that watering of lawns is now not allowed and businesses should try to use less water.

While these restrictions may be difficult, it is important that we all do our bit to save water where we can.


restriction – a rule or law that limits what people can do

infrastructure – the basic systems and structures that a country needs, for example, roads, buildings, water and power supplies

leak – a small hole that lets water flow out of something

sprinkler – a piece of equipment used for scattering water on grass or soil

irrigation systems – ways of watering land or crops

hose – a long rubber tube that people use outside, for example, to put water on gardens

ban – to say that something must not be done

do our bit – do a fair share of a task. If we all do our bit to save water, everyone saves some water and together we achieve the goal of reducing water use.

Images (from Unsplash https://unsplash.com/)

irrigation system
handheld hose