Wastewater suggested as next water source for Auckland

Laura James
Source: 1News

A diverse group of Aucklanders tasked with making recommendations around a new water source for the city has presented its findings, suggesting treating wastewater.

Also known as sewage, it's the used water from sinks, washing machines, showers, baths and toilets.

The advice will be seriously considered by Watercare, which has already said it would have to have a good reason not to implement the decision.

The citizens' assembly, a group of 37 people from across the city, have worked with experts over a period of eight weeks to consider all potential options.

It’s understood to be the first citizens’ assembly in New Zealand for public decision-making of this kind.

The representatives were chosen to mirror Auckland's population, reflecting a range of ages, genders, ethnicities and educations.

Their final report of recommendations was presented to Watercare's Chief Executive and Senior Leaders on Saturday.

It reads, “We recommend the implementation of direct recycled water as the next source of water for Auckland."

The group says engaging the Auckland public in education on the safety and quality of the water is necessary to facilitate acceptance.

The option was considered “cost effective in relation to other options, environmentally friendly because it assists with reducing wastewater” and it “provides another source of water to secure Auckland’s water supply”.

Treated wastewater is already used for drinking purposes in places like Singapore and Namibia and experts here have also previously suggested the idea.

The citizens' assembly worked with mana whenua to make sure the views of Māori are considered, and the principles of Te Mana o te Wai are understood.

Their report also suggests that Watercare continues to investigate the feasibility of desalination.

They have also recommended two or three people from the assembly sit on Watercare's steering committee focussed on future water sources.

Watercare chief customer officer Amanda Singleton said it was important to set up a citizens' assembly for this matter as it will impact all Aucklanders far into the future.

"For a decision like this," she said, "it was never going to be enough to send out a survey or encourage people to submit their views online.

"With a citizens’ assembly, participants have the time to delve deep into the topic, deliberate over the different solutions and then come to a consensus decision.”

The assembly was designed and held in collaboration with Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures at the University of Auckland.

Their work is exploring how different forms of citizens’ engagement could work to support better policy conversations and evidence-informed debate in New Zealand.

Koi Tū deputy director Dr Anne Bardsley said they are designed to sit alongside and compliment traditional structures and methods of consultation.

She says traditional consultation by submission does not reach the diversity that exists in Tāmaki Makaurau or in Aotearoa.

“We know that many citizens do not participate in consultations because of structural inequalities, language or educational barriers, or mistrust in the ‘system’.

"Opening up democracy to different voices should lead to more balanced, inclusive and well-informed outcomes."

Singleton said the group’s recommendations will now be reviewed before a formal response is made.

“Right at the beginning of this process we made a commitment to our assembly members, that we would have to have a really good reason to not go ahead with their recommendations.

"We’ll take a bit of time now to digest all the recommendations before we formally respond to them."

She accepts the recommendations haven't been reached lightly.