Wednesday, 28 February 2024 Knowledge Articles

Water Restrictions: Causes, Impacts and Solutions

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How A Dry Country Can Cope When Water Is Scarce, and Regulations Are Rife

Once considered an occasional and somewhat extreme measure, water restrictions are now a fact of life in most parts of New Zealand. While some of our driest regions, including Central Otago, inland Canterbury and Hawkes Bay, have long faced the challenge of managing their water supplies, particularly during summer, the rest of the country is now getting used to constraints on their water use. Auckland, Northland and much of the South Island face water scarcity, and restrictions are one of the most effective ways to deal with this crisis.


Understanding the Drivers of Water Scarcity in New Zealand

Climate change is seen as the primary reason behind our lack of water and the more stringent management of it. Stats NZ reported that the average annual rainfall for the five years to 2020 was 3.1% below the previous five-year average and 10.7% below the five-year average for 1996 to 2000. These statistics clarify why councils enforce water restrictions more rigorously than ever before.


Climate change is not the only factor linked to increasingly frequent water restrictions. New Zealand's ageing infrastructure is at fault as well. For example, in January of 2024, the South Wairarapa District Council enforced limits on water use when more than 100 leaks were discovered in the public water network serving communities including Greytown, Featherston and Martinborough. The region lost nearly half of the water supplied from reservoirs due to leaks in the past financial year. The fix seems simple: repair the leaks. But this is easier said than done when funding is not available. When the funds run as dry as the reservoirs, the problem becomes an ongoing one, and this is something currently being faced by most of New Zealand's councils. In major cities like Auckland and Wellington, infrastructure issues are as pressing as those encountered in smaller centres.


How Water Restrictions Affect Daily Life in Towns and Cities

The impact of water restrictions is wide-ranging. New Zealand's agriculture industry sector depends on water for irrigation and stock welfare. Restrictions can impact crop yields and livestock, and a decrease in produce coming off the farm pushes up prices around the rest of the country. But it's in New Zealand's towns and cities where the vast majority of the population resides, and these urban areas are affected in their own way. In an average New Zealand urban dwelling, water consumption is evenly divided between the toilet (30%), the bathroom (25%), laundry and kitchen (25%) and the garden (20%). When restrictions are applied, there are consequences in every part of the home.

Urban restrictions limit household water usage so that everyday activities we take for granted, like bathing, gardening, and washing, are significantly curtailed. This could mean showers are shorter, toilets are not flushed after every use, and irrigation might only be allowed on certain days. New Zealand has several types of water restrictions that are often tailored to meet regional and local requirements. Stage-based restrictions are the most widely used and range from voluntary water conservation in the home to compulsory restrictions. In most cases, residents are asked to reduce their water usage voluntarily. Still, if drought conditions persist or infrastructure fails, harsher rules may be implemented, including bans on watering or car washing.

Allocation systems are used in some parts of the country. Water usage permits are allocated to stakeholders, with farmers and industries being typical examples. The permits specify how much water can be used, with proponents saying it ensures fair and equal water distribution. Then there's water metering and pricing, which are widely used in Australia and are gradually being implemented in New Zealand. Water meters allow local councils to monitor consumption and apply pricing structures to promote sensible water use.  


Strategies for Water Conservation in New Zealand Homes

Many New Zealanders are taking steps to conserve water without prompting from authorities. Heightened awareness of the water scarcity crisis has seen more individuals taking responsibility for managing an increasingly rare resource. Examples of this include investment in appliances like washing machines and dishwashers that are designed to use less water; planting drought-tolerant plants in their garden; fixing leaks around the home; making changes in daily habits to save water, e.g. shorter showers, turning the tap off when brushing their teeth, or using a bucket instead of a hose to wash the car.

Possibly the most effective solution is rain harvesting. When the rain falls, a tank ensures it is not wasted. It captures the rain off the roof and keeps it for future use. A storage tank doesn't have to be big to be effective. For example, a Promax Slimline Tank is a popular feature in many New Zealand backyards thanks to its discreet profile that easily fits into the most compact section. The Slimline tank, or any smaller tank, delivers a surprising amount of water throughout the year. The tank capacity might not be huge, but replenishment each time it rains makes it a reliable and ongoing source of water for use in and out of the home.    

The world might think of New Zealand as a green and lush paradise; in many ways, it still is. But, like many other countries, one of our biggest challenges is learning to live with less water. Storing the rain that falls on our towns, cities, and farms is one of the best ways to manage this most precious resource; water tanks are worth their weight in gold in this respect. Conserving water is another way to make a difference during this water scarcity crisis. But possibly the most important thing we can do is to start appreciating water as a precious and rare resource that sustains life. Once we do that, things like rain harvesting in tanks and general water conservation will become commonplace, which needs to happen sooner rather than later. 


If you want help with your water storage, talk to our expert team on 0800 77 66 29 or email with your enquiry.