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  • Jamie Clumpas

Looming Water Shortages Risk Sending Students Half-Flushed Up Shit’s Creek.

JAMIE CLUMPAS (HE/ANY)


As students descend back on to the city, it looks like Wellington has dodged a bullet—for now. Latest assessments show that the risk of the city moving to more extreme water restrictions has dropped by almost half since January, but authorities warn we are not out of the woods yet.


Wellington Water has been warning of acute shortages of treated water since the start of Summer, and have put restrictions in place.


Most of Wellington is on a level two water warning, which only bans the use of outdoor irrigation systems. 


The likelihood of a shift up to level three water restrictions has dropped from 76% to 43%. Level three would see all outdoor water usage banned. 


However, students already concerned about their flatmates’ hygiene should thank their chosen deity that the risk of level four has dropped to 17%, down from 33%. Level four requires a reduction of all household water use, urging a maximum of two minutes for showers and only one load of laundry per person each week.


If a level four level is reached, Wellington Region Emergency Management (WREMO) would likely step in to declare a water emergency. It has been warned that areas of Wellington could temporarily have their water shut off entirely.


WREMO has recommended Wellingtonians store 140 litres of water each in case of these shutoffs; a collective 500,000 for the approximately 3600 students moving into university accommodation.


Accommodation services are confident, however, that the university’s reserves are adequate, with a spokesperson telling Salient “the University has two 90,000L water tanks on the Laby and Kirk buildings on the Kelburn campus, as well as two emergency water tanks which hold 45,000L.” 


VUW management have maintained a relationship with WREMO and Wellington Water, and say they are prepared for possible increases in the risk of shortages in halls.


To reduce the university’s water use, students have been encouraged to use the half-flush function on campus toilets, and to take shorter showers on campus and in halls. 


Works to fix leaks on Vic campuses were completed last year, however students and staff have been urged to contact property services should they see “any unexpected running water" on campus.


A spokesperson for Wellington Water told Salient that the improving situation means student’s can breathe a sigh of relief. "Our message to students is the situation is stable and we expect there will be adequate water supply for the residence halls and campus"


Even though the situation has cooled, the spokesperson warned that the risk of increased levels has not subsided entirely; “If usage peaks, or there is a major outage or a reservoir went unexpectedly offline, this could have significant impact on the network, and an escalation to level 3 or even 4 is still possible.”


Maintaining a buffer between water capacity and demand is essential to avoiding shortages in case of unplanned outages. Estimates show that as much as 45% of Wellington’s treated water is lost to leaks, severely impacting the ability for the agency to keep the system resilient. When Auckland’s leakages crossed over 13%, it was described as a "serious event" that "needs attention".


The crumbling state of our pipes is a direct result of council underfunding, with Wellington Water admitting that investment in replacing the pipes has “not kept pace with the number of pipes nearing and exceeding their operational lives.” 


With council’s narrow left-wing majority secured by Green candidate Geordie Rogers’ victory in last week’s council by-election, debate will continue—the council is so far relying on a controversial agenda of asset sales to pay for long-overdue investment in our Wai.


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