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Our community is supported by the supply of clean, safe drinking water,
but we must keep looking forward, says chief operations officer Shane Morgan

 

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With Watercare’s progressive upgrade of the metropolitan and non-metropolitan networks since 2010, all our customers across the region receive Aa-grade water today.

Aa-grade signifies a high quality of water and exceeds what is required by the Ministry of Health drinking water guidelines. We continue to be very proud of this feat, but we cannot sit back and assume the job is complete. Instead, we continue to look ahead, assessing forecasts and planning to ensure our services will meet future demand and cope with environmental changes.

Over the past year, we have recovered from the storms of 2017, bolstering water supplies with additional treatment. At the Waikato Water Treatment Plant, we have installed a sand extraction system to safeguard equipment and at the Ardmore Water Treatment Plant, we have designed an additional disinfection barrier.

We have also sought to determine the best strategy to replace the ageing Huia Water Treatment Plant. The Huia project continues to be a learning experience for our staff. While we always seek the best technical outcomes, we have also been challenged to find a solution that meets a number of competing demands. We believe we have the right approach for Huia, but we continue to listen and be responsive to community concerns and priorities.

Across the city we are working increasingly hard to respond to environmental sensitivities and stakeholder concerns when our planned works affect local communities. The mutually beneficial outcomes achieved this year, as we worked through the resource consent process on projects such as the Pukekohe Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrade, have reinforced our commitment to this approach.

The vision for the future of our operations is transformational. While maintaining our disciplined compliance focus, we have a growing understanding of the value we create for our environment and our communities, and how we can expand on this.

The core of this new way of seeing the value we deliver, particularly through our wastewater operations, starts with the concept of a ‘circular economy’ – our treatment plants becoming resource recovery facilities. This is about harnessing energy, along with water and nutrients from the treatment process for beneficial reuse purposes, and designing waste out.

We have been heading down this path for some years with the energy reuse at the Mangere and Rosedale plants, and this year, Mangere produced 56 per cent and Rosedale produced 74 per cent of their power needs.

We have committed to energy neutrality at those two sites by 2025. This means these plants will be fully able to sustain their own energy needs thanks to innovative processes to reduce our power requirements and increase our ability to harness energy.

In addition, the Rosedale facility will soon be the first plant in New Zealand to incorporate thermal hydrolysis treatment. Biosolids will be stabilised and pathogens removed, so that we can progress towards better uses for this nutrientrich material.

Our interest and investment has for many years extended beyond the plants to their surrounding environments. Auckland’s harbours and waterways are very important to us.

For 60 years we have managed the health and well-being of birds that use the Manukau Harbour as the only stop in their intercontinental migration. Local birds use our bird roosts and foreshore too, with five dotterel chicks hatching last year, a significant number for this endangered species.

Planting of native trees, pest control and weed control in the area and beyond continue, as does maintenance of the 11-kilometre-long Watercare Coastal Walkway and adjoining public spaces. We are fostering a culture of empowering staff and now have the pleasure of seeing them create innovative and sustainable ways to enhance our interaction with the environment, such as chemical-free midge control.

This year we have made our first step towards the revegetation of 1900 hectares of our Hunua Ranges catchments, aiming at improving slope stability and therefore water quality. This involves millions of native trees planted on former commercial forestry land over the next 30 years. We purchased the forestry rights to this area so we could restore the pine forests back to native flora.

Meanwhile, we are also working to better understand our environment. We have been working with NIWA to develop a comprehensive hydrodynamic and water quality model for the Manukau Harbour. The model, which will provide unprecedented insight into the harbour’s dynamics and overall health, will be used to inform all future decision-making.