What caused the water shortage in Auckland in 2020?

The year 2020 certainly taught us all that in the face of unexpected events, there are lessons to learn that we can apply to our daily lives even after the dire times have passed. Aside from the pandemic and lockdown, the Auckland drought of 2020 was another one of these times when we all learned how to adapt – and come away better off having learned how to improve a few of our habits.

The Auckland water shortage started making news in 2019, but many of us didn’t really take notice until we experienced an especially dry start to the summer of 2019-20. By February 2020, we had reached a record spell of no rain for 40 consecutive days. From November 2019 to May 2020, Auckland received only 60% of its normal rainfall.

We saw our total water storage (all our dams combined) drop below 50% for the first time in more than 25 years. Water storage levels were at the mid-40% mark. To put that into perspective, the dams that Aucklanders get our water from in the Hūnua and Waitākere ranges historically have sat around 89% full.

So in May, mandatory bans on water use were introduced along with fines of up to $20,000 for using hoses and water outdoors.

Is there still a water shortage in Auckland, and what do we need to know?

Aucklanders have done their part to reduce water usage, and at the time of this blog, dam levels were up around 70%. But they’re still not as high as they need to be. In late November 2020, the mandatory water restrictions for residential water users introduced earlier in the year were adjusted. From mid-December, residents were allowed to use hand-held hoses and water blasting devices so long as they are fitted with trigger nozzles.

If you have a rainwater or grey water tank you can use that water as you wish (you can connect a hose to those tanks and wash your car, boat etc). For more information on grey water tanks, have a read of our blog, Everything you need to know about grey water tanks.

Watercare has set up a website called Water for Life to provide information about how to use water wisely. For all of us to do our part to conserve water (and help get those dam levels higher), Watercare provides the following tips: 

  • Keep your showers short (four minutes or less)
  • Run your washing machine and dishwasher only when they’re full
  • Don’t wash your car
  • Don’t water blast your house
  • Don’t hose your lawn

For many of us, we’ve been hearing these reminders for months. As the dam levels show, this has all been making a positive difference. But there are other things you can do.

What else can we do to reduce water usage?

At Regency Plumbing we’d like to share a few other tips that we’ve gathered in our research into what we can do in Auckland to help ease the water shortage. We’ve come up with 25 ways to save water:

  1. Turn off the tap when brushing your teeth
  2. Turn off the tap when shaving (at the sink)
  3. Turn off the shower (or at least turn the flow down) when shaving in the shower
  4. Fill the sink to hand-wash dishes, rather than leaving the tap running
  5. Only do a load of laundry when you have a full load (and try a shorter load time)
  6. Don’t over-wash clothes – most of us are in the habit of washing an item of clothing after only one wear; some items can be worn again (provided they don’t smell)
  7. If you do any hand washing or soaking, use a bucket instead of doing it in the sink; use the soapy water where possible in the garden or to rinse dirty garden gloves, running shoes, beach toys, etc
  8. Only run the dishwasher when you have a full load
  9. Reduce the number of dishes you’re rinsing before putting them in the dishwasher (believe it or not, many people rinse mugs and glasses, which you don’t need to do); and test whether you really do need to rinse bowls and plates beforehand
  10. Try to reduce the amount of water you use while cooking – rinse vegetables in a bowl and then use the water in the garden; steam instead of boil vegetables; don’t boil more water than you need for pasta and potatoes
  11. Consider composting some of your kitchen waste instead of putting it down the waste disposal unit (which requires running water to do its job)
  12. Don’t empty drinking water bottles down the sink at the end of the day – pour any unwanted water onto plants
  13. Check to make sure your toilet cistern isn’t leaking (if it is, give Regency Plumbing a call)
  14. Check and make sure you don’t have any other leaks from your plumbing or appliances
  15. Fix any dripping taps or showerheads you have (again, feel free to give Regency Plumbing a call)
  16. Consider whether you really do need to flush the toilet after every use
  17. If you do flush after every use, use the half flush (if your toilet has a dual-flush option)
  18. If you need to run the shower for a minute while you wait for the hot water, collect this cold water in a bucket and use this water on your indoor plants, out in the garden or to rinse those soccer boots
  19. Take showers instead of baths (modern shower heads use approximately 12-15 litres per minute, so about 48-60 litres for a 4-minute shower; in a bath, people usually use between 100 and 150 litres to fill the tub, and then often run even more hot water as a top-up)
  20. Turn your shower flow down (or off) while you’re lathering up
  21. When emptying the fish tank or changing the water, consider whether you can use the old water in the garden or elsewhere rather than just pouring it down the drain (one of our clients uses it to wash the kids’ chalk off the driveway, giving them a clean slate to draw on)
  22. Look after your pool – check for leaks and fix them right away, so you’re not repeatedly filling or topping it up (consider topping up your pool with rainwater runoff)
  23. Use a pool cover – a properly fitted pool cover can stop up to 97% of evaporation and reduce the amount of chemicals required to treat the water
  24. Water your garden early morning or late afternoon, not in the middle of the day when the heat of the sun is strongest – not only will it dry up faster and not be as effective, but many plants and stems don’t fare well with the sun-heated water temperature
  25. Stop and think – before you turn on any water source and before you pour any water down the drain. Ask yourself a few simple questions. Do you really need to use that water? Can you do it differently? Can you use “used” or grey water? Do you really need to “throw away” that water? Can it be used elsewhere?

If you start thinking of water down the drain as water that you throw away (and water that you pay for), you might just be a bit more mindful of how much water you’re using.

If you have any other tips and tricks for saving water, we’d love to hear them.

Feel free to get in touch with us at Regency Plumbing to share your effective ways to help with the Auckland water shortage.

And don’t forget … even if we hear that we no longer have a water shortage, we encourage you to continue to keep up the good water-saving habits.

Sources: www.Watercare.org and www.Waterforlife.org.nz 

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