Climate change workshop seeks action on water networks

15 / Jul / 2019

Representatives of the five councils that own Wellington Water have directed the water services company to prepare a response strategy for climate change.

 A workshop of councillors from the Wellington, Lower Hutt, Upper Hutt, Porirua and Greater Wellington regional councils, South Wairarapa District council, representatives from mana whenua groups Taranaki Whānui and Ngāti Toa and Wellington Water board members on Friday discussed the challenges of climate change and reducing carbon emissions, with an emphasis on water infrastructure.

Water Committee chair David Bassett said all councils in the region had received delegations from students, and some had declared climate emergencies. The opportunity the workshop presented was to find a way to work together and gain an understanding of the options and costs both of mitigation efforts and of doing nothing.

Upper Hutt Mayor and Water Committee representative Wayne Guppy, who hosted the workshop, noted the intergenerational importance of this work and the impact that climate change and responses to it would have on those not in the room, particularly young people and vulnerable communities.

The workshop agreed on key principles for the joint response it was looking for, which included partnership, people and commitment to act.

Some of the consequences of climate change that relate to managing water infrastructure highlighted in the meeting were:

  • Coastal erosion and the impact of sea-level rise – surface water cannot drain from low-lying areas, saltwater increases corrosion of infrastructure, production of toxic byproducts
  • Increased sea levels raise the risk of salt water intrusion into the aquifer that is a key drinking water resource for metropolitan Wellington
  • Increased rainfall intensity will place greater pressure on existing infrastructure and increase risk to people and property
  • Many low-lying areas are public spaces, schools, parks, roads, transport routes – changes to these are likely to have greater impact on lower socio-economic sectors of the community
  • Increased temperatures and longer dry spells will put greater demand on water supply

The workshop heard that these and other aspects of climate change aren’t problems that communities can “build their way out of”, meaning bigger, more expensive infrastructure is not necessarily the answer. Decisions on land use – especially where communities retreat from and where they build in future – mean councils will have to have tough conversations with affected communities. Hence the need for councils to work together, on a clear and consistent approach, that is people focused.

“This is the beginning of a long journey,” Mr Bassett said of the workshop, adding that any proposals needed to have a full understanding of costs and benefits. Acknowledging the complexity of issues, and that relevant expertise sat amongst other parties as well, Wellington Water Board chair David Wright said the company would bring a timeline for developing options and costs to the next Water Committee meeting in September.

These options would provide the basis for each council to consult with their communities on their preferred responses and actions.