Sewage suggested as next water source for Auckland

A diverse group of Aucklanders tasked with making recommendations for a new water source for the city have presented their findings, suggesting treating sewage.

Also known as sewage, it is waste water from sinks, washing machines, showers, bathtubs and toilets.

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

The Citizens’ Assembly, a group of 37 people from across the city, worked with experts over an eight-week period to consider all possible options.

It would be the first citizens’ assembly in New Zealand for such public decision-making.

The representatives were chosen to reflect 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 executives 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 water safety and quality education is necessary to facilitate acceptance.

The option was seen as “cost effective compared to other options, environmentally friendly as it helps reduce waste water” and it “provides an alternative 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 suggested the idea.

The citizens’ assembly has worked with mana whenua to ensure that Maori views are taken into account and that the principles of Te Mana o te Wai are understood.

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

They also recommended that two or three people from the assembly sit on the Watercare steering committee focused on future water sources.

Watercare’s chief customer officer, Amanda Singleton, said it was important to set up a citizens’ assembly on this, as it will impact all Aucklanders in the future.

“For a decision like this,” she said, “it would never be enough to send out a survey or encourage people to submit their opinions online.

“With a citizens’ assembly, the participants have time to delve into the subject, deliberate on the various solutions, and then come to a consensual decision.”

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

Their work explores how different forms of citizen engagement could work to support better policy conversations and evidence-based debate in New Zealand.

Koi Tū Deputy Director Dr Anne Bardsley said they are designed to accompany and complement traditional counseling structures and methods.

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

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

“Opening up democracy to different voices should lead to more balanced, inclusive and better informed outcomes.”

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

“Early on in this process, we made a commitment to the members of our assembly that we had to have a very good reason not to follow their recommendations.

“We’re going to take some time now to digest all of the recommendations before formally responding to them.”

She admits that the recommendations were not reached lightly.

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