The Bucket Fountain in Wellington’s Cuba Mall has long been the capital city’s iconic water feature. However, it seems that new competition is emerging.
Burst pipes and leaks have become a regular part of life in the world’s leakiest little capital. Around 44% of the region’s water supply is currently lost to leaks. That’s the equivalent of 27 Olympic-sized swimming pools down the drain each day.
Just last week, a burst pipe shut off water around Queen’s Wharf in the CBD, disrupting businesses and forcing many to work from home.
Wellington’s water woes have become so serious that the region was compelled to convene its first-ever Water Shortage Summit on 11 September. With summer approaching, the possibility of stringent measures like two-minute showers and outdoor bans looms large.
Campbell Barry, Mayor of Lower Hutt and Chair of Wellington Water Committee, is blunt about the challenge. “If we have a dry summer ... then we’re staring down major water shortages.”
How did it come to this? And what needs to happen next?
Wellington City Council bears ultimate responsibility. For years, the Council has failed to adequately invest in routine maintenance and renewals – a major problem when some of the pipes in the network are more than 100 years old.
Like all councils, Wellington City Council collects money from ratepayers to cover depreciation of water assets. That money is supposed to be invested back into the water network.
However, as Nikki Mandow has reported, the Council has redirected that funding towards other priorities. In 2019, it spent less than half of that money on water assets. Water NZ data show that this has been going on for years.
We are now witnessing the consequences of deferred maintenance. For example, a 2020 Mayoral Taskforce revealed that 30% of Wellington’s water network has already exceeded its intended lifespan. It also found that around 60% of all pipeline assets will require replacement in the next 30 years.
Not that the Council seems to mind. Pipes and critical infrastructure are all very well, but what Wellington really needs, according to our local representatives, is an additional $6.5 million for cultural adornments to the new library.
It is high-time that Wellington City Council focused on getting the basics right. Fancy library refurbishments and urban rejuvenation plans sound lovely on paper, but when the taps don’t work, it all starts to seem a little absurd.