Is Water Care Services an Oxymoron?


Our water bill has shot up in recent times, we had a leak repaired in November and it settled down to its new high, but January went nuts to the level of a 6 person household. Ours is 3. We couldn’t understand why, but it hurt, especially on top of the new increases in water fees on the North Shore in Auckland. Last week we finally discovered a new leak right by the water mains and on 8 February we called Water Care Services. 

Ware Leak

Ware Leak

The call center staff were very friendly and said it would probably take 3 working days for someone to come and check it out. While we were waiting for this visit a lot of water went down the drain. A neighbor had a similar problem and Water Care sent them a contractor to check out the problem.

On The 13th I rang again and asked what was happening. They put me on hold, came back and said I was in a priority queue. I was pleased that something was happening. I asked if the contractor could ring when they were coming and I was put on hold again and she said that was fine, they would ring when they were on the way. I told her I was working from home on the 14th, so that would be great. I had a plumber booked for the 14th in case the problem was on our side.

No one came to our house on the 14th, but a Water Care contractor went to a similar problem about 4 doors down the road. My next door neighbor asked them if they could have a look at my problem while they were there. He said he would look into it. He didn’t. I postponed the plumber.

I rang the Water Care call center again on the 14th  and they explained that the contractor couldn’t look at our place because he didn’t have access to the works order for it. She said someone would be there before 11 on the 15th and they would call before coming as requested.

I worked from home again on the 15th, wanting to be there when the contractor came. At around 11:30 I went to the letter box, the area around the meter box was very muddy and water was coming out of the mains box in much greater volume than before. In the letter box was a note from a company called Lend Lease saying “SUSPECT YOU HAVE A PRIVATE LEAK”

I contacted the plumber who is unavailable for another 3 days and now we walk backwards and forwards to the water main, turning it on and off as required. The plumber said to us that there appear to be many instances in the area of higher pressure in the pipes (due to increasing water supply capacity works for the new Long Bay subdivisions and other growth in the area) causing leaks.

So a couple of questions for you and Water Care. How is it that you can send 3 contractors to the same street in the same street in different instances and you don’t have the technology in the 21st century to identify that there are other jobs that could be done at the same time? Sending a van out from wherever and back 3 times must be quite expensive (a bit like my water bill). If that happens 3 times in one week, just in my street, how much extra does it cost. Calls like mine to the call center which had local sounding people (which must be pretty big, because I never spoke to the same person twice), Maybe half an hour of time. Calls from them to contractors, another 15 minutes. Processing multiple works orders, maybe 20 minutes. 3 trips from vans to my street, with driving time, probably an hour each. That’s a lot of ratepayers money. It’s also a lot of wasted water, are the dams overflowing after this dry summer, that we can afford to waste it?

Does Water Care Services have sustainability KPI’s?

I’m starting to understand why Water Care charges so much. I know they have a geospatial database, one would assume they have a good CRM. Hopefully they will give me a rebate on the excess water for January and February, which I can apply to the plumber’s bill. I’m looking forward to having him fix the problem in a couple of days time.

I am wondering if other people have had similar experiences? Please feel free to leave a comment. By the way I am not a whingeing stirrer, I give credit where it is due to, for example my recent blog about AA Insurance, who provided me with fantastic service after someone dinged my car in a car park and took off. The thing is, I am a ratepayer, I am paying massive amounts of money for water and waste-water and I suspect that with better management or systems, I could be paying a whole lot less.

 

Workplace Bullying in Christchurch


Further to my blog this morning on how people are, or are not coping with stress from the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes, we are now hearing stories of increased workplace bullying in Christchurch. I don’t know how much it would take place normally, but this is another example of ordinary people being stretched to extraordinary limits.

According to a story published in many media this week, the stress levels are as high as would be found in a war zone. An AAP story says that scripts for sleeping pills and anti anxiety drugs are up and many people are self medicating with alcohol often resulting in violent incident, domestic and otherwise. Women’s Refuge reports a 30% increase in demand since the February earthquake.

A poll in The Press established that only 38% of people in Christchurch don’t want to leave. Of course as I mentioned in my blog yesterday on  Post Traumatic Stress in Christchurch, because of mortgage commitments, and the logical lack of buyers, many people can’t afford to leave if they wanted to.

Meanwhile Prime Minister John Key is still unable to say whether a decision will be announced this week on which streets or  suburbs will not be rebuilt.

Here’s another every day view from NZ Herald TV, brushing your teeth with lemonade because there is no water.

Preparation Lessons from Japan and Christchurch


It’ll never happen to me is probably the first thing. Even in Japan, which I have visited at least 20 times, I doubt many people expected anything like this latest earthquake. I experienced earthquakes on many of my trips to Japan. I have been in office buildings and hotel rooms and felt the vertigo as buildings sway. The thing is it happens so often that people take it in their stride and the evidence was seen with images of people standing on bridges watching rather than racing for cover.

A similar situation occurred in Christchurch, New Zealand. We all expected that if a big one did come, it would be in Wellington, not Christchurch. I used to be a Civil Defence rescue team leader and our earthquake training was all based around Wellington because it has a compact CBD, lots of buildings clad in glass and sits right on the fault line. Like Japan, they experience lots of earthquakes there.

What I really wanted to mention in this blog though, is the survival kits, the essentials required besides shelter and ablutions. That is water and power. Water has proven to be probably the biggest issue in many fronts. Basically water is the most crucial element. We can live longer without food, but not without water. We need water for drinking, bathing, cooking etc and when the water supply either fails or becomes contaminated, this becomes a major problem.

I will certainly be taking this more seriously in future because it was obvious that if you didn’t have any, your chances of getting your hands on water were pretty slim. In Christchurch for example, only one supermarket remained open. Not a lot for New Zealand’s 2nd largest city.

If you don’t have electricity, you can’t boil contaminated water, can’t wash yourself, your clothes and risk hygiene problems. A generator isn’t much of an option but gas is. We saw lots of images of people filling up their gas cylinders and having communal BBq’s because their refrigerators couldn’t run and food would soon perish.

Getting gas after the quake

Of course gas also means you can boil water. We were very lucky in Christchurch to not have outbreaks of cholera or other diseases due to water contamination, not to mention the inability to flush the toilets etc.

In this situation I’m not sure how much it would help, but these are easy things that I will be doing to ensure even though I don’t think it will ever happen to me:

  • Stocking enough water and non perishable food to support my family for a number of days.
  • Ensuring that I have a couple of full gas cylinders (remember that without power, petrol stations close)

Longer term I will look at replacing my hot water cylinder with gas. Doesn’t help if there is no water, but does if there is no electricity.

Then I get back to my hobby horse of solar power. A hobby horse of mine is that the government should not only be encouraging us, but facilitating solar power for both business and consumers. I’ve blogged before about feed-in tariffs and interest free finance for people to install solar panels as happens in other parts of the world. If we all had solar power, we would be much more sustainable. Obviously New Zealand will not be running nuclear power, even more so given the latest catastrophe in Japan. As I write this a 3rd nuclear reactor has lost its emergency cooling system after the 8.9 quake!

For a country that asserts itself as clean and green, I think this is a big fail. Maybe this would be an opportunity for the Green Party to assert itself. With the election due in November this year, if I was them I would be pushing hard for interest free subsidies for solar energy, especially for water heating. I would also be pushing for the right to sell surplus energy back into the grid .

When I was in the Netherlands a couple of years ago I saw many warehouses and farm buildings covered in solar panels. I also of course saw many wind farms. I thought they looked really cool, although I probably wouldn’t want one in my backyard. Fortunately for the size of our country we have plenty of space.

So have we learned anything and will we act on it?

The following video illustrates how people are so used to earthquakes that they don’t do what they have been trained to do.

The World Dairy Summit and Water


Auckland’s Sky City Convention Centre is hosting the World Dairy Summit this week, a conference which will be attended by delegates from all over the world.

I was pleased to hear that sustainability is a major part of this event, with a day committed to the environment. One of those sections is on knowing your water footprint and water accounting in the dairy industry. Another is zero waste, although I’m not sure if that takes into consideration the leaching of all sorts of bio waste, hormones and fertilizers into the rivers, such as the Waikato River from which we Aucklanders have to drink, but I digress.

In a recent blog about In Vitro Meat I mentioned that according to Fred Pearce who wrote the book When the Rivers Run Dry, it requires around 24,000 liters of water to grow the feed to make a kilo of beef, or 2,400 liters for a Quarter Pounder. Now that’s a lot of water. We’re quite lucky in New Zealand being an island nation, that we get a lot of rain, but a lot of the world is not so lucky.

Of course this water is recycled in some ways, although not scientifically, most of it flows back into the ground together with whatever chemicals and particulates have been absorbed with it. That is why I previously blogged about the water quality issue in Auckland with the Super City Elections, but this was not high on any agendas.

Now my blog has been criticized before by farmers saying I am anti farming. This couldn’t be further from the truth and I love eating meat. I’ve gone off pork in recent times having seen how its farmed, but I won’t say no to wild pork.

I chose the following video because it helps explain the water issue in growing beef, but I won’t be following the advice to become a vegetarian. I don’t think humans were supposed to be vegetarian. I just think we need to stop the outrageous waste of water in our current farming methods and find better ways to grow feed, recycle water and reduce the amounts required in the farming process. I hope that New Zealand will take a stronger leadership position on water and its preservation. We are on the verge of a global water crisis and I believe that we are taking it for granted that we will always have plenty downunder.

It’s Super City Election Time – My Question is Drinking Water


Driving home from the office last night, I saw a couple of guys waving from behind their placards as they do in the time leading up to the elections. I wondered if they felt stupid. I didn’t want to wave or beep the horn because I’d never heard of them before and really didn’t know what they were about. Just a couple of guys with wide grins that looked just like the photos they were standing next to.

I’ve had a little ‘junk mail’ from some of them which don’t tend to say much unless they are on the fringe with a cause and hats off to them for that. One was promoting a futuristic rapid transit system which looked absolutely amazing, something looking like it came straight out of New Scientist. He was a mayoral candidate, can’t remember his name because I figured he didn’t stand a chance anyway.

I just have one question for the Mayoral and other political candidates and that’s about our Auckland drinking water. As you may have noted if you are a reader of my blogs, water is a subject dear to me. I’m basically made of it and what’s in it therefore, makes me.

In a previous blog about Oceanic Dead Zones, I coincidentally touched on the fact that the Metrowater back room handshake between the Auckland Mayors of the day, that Waitakere would get first use of all fresh water from the Auckland rainforest dams and the rest of us would get a percentage of Waikato River water when required.

The plan about the Waikato Water (which Joel Cayford said was unsafe to drink) was that it would only be used at times when the dam levels were insufficient to meet Auckland’s needs. However I believe that because it cost something like $10,000 on maintenance costs every time the sluice was opened that most of the time it now stays open, despite its purpose being only for emergency use.

Now I’d like you to have a look at a couple of photos which I will link to. The first is of Dr David Sinclair and Dr Virginia Hope, showing their faith in filtration by drinking Waikato River water. Damn, the other photo I wanted to show you doesn’t seem to be available on the net, but it was of the French Defense Minister Michael Debre, swimming in the Mururoa Atoll lagoon after a nuclear test, to show how safe it was. Enough on that.

What I want to know from the new candidates in Auckland is what is their policy on having Aucklanders drink Waikato River water? Will Waitakere continue to get a monopoly on their fresh water from the West Auckland dams? Will the dams be better maintained (i.e. make them deeper by removing the silt mountain on the bottom?

With all the rain we have in Auckland, we should have much better than acceptable water quality (I noted a politician, can’t remember who it was in the media recently called it).

More on In Vitro Meat


A couple of years ago I wrote about the potential to grow your own food including  in vitro meat. The first experiments produced something rubbery and inedible, but things have moved on since then.

For a country like New Zealand the idea of creating artificial meat is anathema. We made history in 1882 when the SS Dunedin successfully arrived in London carrying 4931 refrigerated carcasses  of  mutton, lamb and pork.

Whilst in the past meat represented better than 50% of NZ’s export revenue, in 2009 it was a modest 13.2%. On the other hand biotech is becoming so important in New Zealand that it has even made the Secondary School curriculum. Significant consideration is being given to Animal Biofarming in NZ as evidenced by this comprehensive document from the NZ Foundation for Research Science and Technology FRST.

Why would you consider doing something like this. Simple really. A large chunk of the population of the world is hungry and unable to feed itself. Over 1 Billion people fit the definition of living in hunger. That’s more than 3 times the population of the USA! Then there’s water. There is debate in some places that there is no water crisis, but fresh water represents only 3% of the total water on the planet. I won’t go into the countries where drinking water is an issue, its common knowledge and drought as a news search on Google draw almost 13,000 results.

According to Fred Pearce who wrote the book When the Rivers Run Dry, it requires around 24,000 liters of water to grow the feed to make a kilo of beef, or 2,400 liters for a Quarter Pounder.

Now while a cow also produces leather and pet food, and other product a massive amount of each beast is expensive waste product, even if some of it goes back in the ground as fertilizer. Wouldn’t it make sense to be able to just make the meat if you could?

I’ve focused on some of the why’s. I haven’t even touched on the widely held ethical views on growing animals purely so we can eat them. I definitely like my meat, don’t get me wrong. Anyway I will leave with a link to the In Vitro Meat Foundation and a quote from Winstone Churchill in 1932:

“Fifty years hence (…) we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium”

The last word goes to Jason Metheny of New Harvest

I’ve been thinking


Do what you do well, is advice that is often given. Get back to basics. So let’s think about this for a moment from a New Zealand perspective. At the moment our economy, like many economies is looking grim. We are borrowing lots of money to stay afloat. We look to electronics, bioengineering and other things that we are good at, but aside from a few exceptions we don’t seem to capitalise on it. We are great with ideas, but not so good at doing something about it.

We have some success stories sure, wine does ok, lamb was doing ok until they invented food miles and we are pretty successful at controlling segments of milk and fruit, particularly apples and kiwifruit. The legacy of people like Angus Tait (who I had the privilege of working for 7 years) continues, but without his innovative attitude. We have some success stories, but they are really far and few between.

Many years ago, when we all took it for granted, we were an agrarian economy and very successful at it. We’ve been successful food exporters, right back to when the Dunedin, the world’s first refrigerated ship left New Zealand full of frozen meat carcasses, back in 1882.

New Zealand fed many parts of the world for over a hundred years and life was good. Live sheep have been exported for over 100 years, although a number of incidents where thousands of sheep died have had a negative impact on this. My biggest argument, besides the inhumanity of keeping live animals penned up for so long, was that much of the stock was exported for breeding purposes, which of course reduced the demand for our own product.

But I digress. In today’s economy, we seem to have turned our backs on some opportunities, such as creating large call centres to look after communications needs of other English-speaking countries in other time zones, a market that South Africa has made a huge industry out of. We aren’t doing enough in areas such as science and medicine, possibly because the people with the smarts go offshore.

So lets look at what problems the world is going to face in the near future, in fact many parts of the world are facing right now, food! Scarce water resources, growing populations and growing tracts of land that are becoming so dry and depleted that nothing will grow on them. Then of course we also have oceanic dead zones, which are killing fish and other sea life.

Is this something we could look at with a different De Bono Hat on? Oceanic Dead Zones thrive through a combination of fertilisers and nutrients that leach into rivers and down to the sea, causing large algae blooms. These compound as the phytoplankton absorbs available oxygen and pretty much kills everything off.

Could this be another opportunity? When I need some extra energy before a run, I swallow a pile of Spirulina. Spirulina is actually algae. Of course the algal blooms often contain toxins, but there are many algae that can be used as a food source. Perhaps we could turn a bad situation into a good one.

In New Zealand, since we signed the Kyoto protocol, it has become relatively economic to grow forests (which while gobbling up Carbon Dioxide also use up a lot of water). We have lots of land, a good climate for agriculture and a need to find new sources of income. In fact I have heard that NZ can no longer feed its population without importing food. So why don’t we start looking at ways of growing bulk food?

If we want to do the right thing, we could look at product that has low cost to grow, that we can export for a profit and help countries that have problems at the same time. More than 1 billion people (1 in 6) suffer from food deprivation.

Food Science is something we are very good at. Most universities have food science and biotechnology majors and there is even a Food Science Institute. Many people have a problem with GE Food. I don’t personally know enough about it, but one way or another we either have to put production into overdrive or accept that hundreds of millions of people will die soon through malnutrition and starvation.We have a food crisis now. Grain is scarce and with oil running out a lot of people are now growing grain to fuel cars, creating even less food source.

Whilst human population growth is slowing, there were still 74 million new mouths to feed last year. A large chunk of these are in countries where soils are eroding, water tables falling and wells going dry.

Water politics is becoming a new issue and it could be that future wars are fought between countries that share water sources. This is especially likely where low lands are reliant on water coming from highlands. Think Europe, where many of our recent wars have begun. But again I digress.

Can we go back to agriculture as something we are very good at and the world needs? Dairy is currently our biggest export and apparently Fonterra’s income represented 25% of New Zealand’s total export revenue 2 years ago!

So we are good at growing crops, but could we do more? I think so. First, we should be self sustainable. We can’t afford to rely on other markets, especially when things get to a crisis where 1st world countries start fighting over resources. Then we should look at how we can feed the world and get paid for it. As a country surrounded by sea, we do not face the extremes that occur with countries that have large land masses, including our neighbours Australia.

As to Food Miles, I’m all for sustainability, so lets look at this is an opportunity. This can mean focussing on closer markets such as Australia and Asia, but also on biotechnology to get more for less.

Sometimes I think we try to be too clever. Faster computers, cloud computing, cars, planes, rockets, 3D TV, all things I want to continue to enjoy, are meaningless to the ever rowing numbers of starving and malnourished people around the world. Because of our geographic isolation, we became very good at food. Let’s look for more and new ways to exploit this. Lets make sure that if everything turns to dung, we can still feed ourselves, then lets look at how we can help feed the world and pay off our national debt at the same time.

I’ll leave the last word to NASA who have remote sensing technology to monitor conditions affecting food resources and their management: