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NZ's huge water wastage problem

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The statistics are staggering. 100 billion litres of water are lost every year due to leaks and wastage. Pipes being used to transport water can be up to 135 years old. The average usage (plus leakage) of water is 259 litres per person a day; Masterton even comes in at more than twice that – 655 litres.

Despite being known for abundant natural resources, when it comes to water, New Zealand is suffering from an ageing, damaged infrastructure; expensive and time-consuming to repair. Water reticulation systems for freshwater, storm water drains and sewage systems are all suffering from a lack of investment.

Reports cite various reasons for such damage and subsequent leaking: damage to pipes during installation of broadband, natural disasters such as earthquakes and antique pipework that needs replacing with PVC.

Farming leads the way

This pressure on water resources throws the spotlight on two of New Zealand’s top export sectors. Dairy and tourism are both heavily dependent on clean water.

New Zealand farmers and the dairy industry, according to some commentators, are leading the way in infrastructure investment after a rising awareness of the problems and risks. Now the spotlight is turning to urban areas. “Farmers, especially those with irrigation systems, are already using water as efficiently as technology allows. We are always on the lookout for sensible, practical and affordable solutions to managing freshwater better," said a spokesperson for Federated Farmers.

The other export area, tourism, depends on the abundance of water for recreational pursuits and excellent levels of water quality, in both rural and city areas.

Water options for cities

In cities, additional options are being considered while local and national government consider how to afford extensive infrastructure repairs. Some are not without controversy.

Desalination plants, similar to those being constructed in neighbouring Australia – Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney – have been proposed. However, their critics argue that the clean water benefits may not be worth the input of energy required. In addition, critics have voiced concerns over the potential environmental damage these plants may cause. Proposals have also been made to increase the water taken from the Waikato River in Auckland.

Water Technology Conference

In September, the Water New Zealand Expo 2018 takes place in Hamilton. It aims to discuss the latest issues affecting New Zealand water as well as global water technology. The Expo wants to bring together ‘like-minded professionals to share experiences and knowledge and build new relationships’.

As things stand, the numbers on water wastage in New Zealand speak for themselves. Water looks set to be a national issue for some years to come. The Water Conference and Expo may be a very valuable forum to share best practice. Reviewing the different engineering and scientific approaches taken throughout New Zealand and the world could help many areas at risk from water wastage.  

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