New Zealand may be blessed with a plentiful supply of fresh water, but our system for getting it to our taps leaves a lot to be desired.
In places like Wellington, our pipe system has a water leakage rate of roughly 15 to 20 per cent, Water New Zealand CEO John Pfahlert told TVNZ1's Breakfast today.
"It's a fairly aging piping network, quite leaky," he said, adding that the situation isn't any different in "many, many communities" throughout Aotearoa. "You compare that, for example, to places like the Netherlands where you'd probably have less than 3 per cent leakage - a much higher investment in their reticulation network."
And as scientists predict more extreme weather events in coming decades, including extreme drought, that inefficiency paired with our "excessive consumption" throughout the country will have big consequences if we don't prepare for it now, he predicted.
Mr Pfahlert's warnings come as a report in Wellington suggests demand for water there will outstrip supply by 2040 if residents keep consuming at their current rate.
While replacing the piping networks throughout New Zealand is expensive, there is one way to dramatically cut down our consumption, Mr Pfahlert said. Install water meters and charge for it.
The measure is already in place in Auckland, where it costs about $1.80 per cubic metre of water.
"When those meters were introduced, there was an immediate reduction in water consumption by people of about 30 per cent," he said.
"When they did the same thing on the Kapiti Coast a few years ago, they were facing the necessity to build a water treatment plant at a cost of something like $50 million," he added. "They installed water meters, and (there was) an immediate 30 per cent drop in consumption in water by locals.
"It does drive behaviour."
There has been some opposition to installing meters in Wellington, with fears - unfounded, officials say - that it could lead to privatisation of the water supply. But the measure seems inevitable, not just for Wellington but for all of New Zealand, Mr Pfahlert told Breakfast.
"As we approach a world where the weather's going to be drier, I suspect it's going to be something that most communities are forced to do," he said. "It just makes good common sense. It's not only a means of conserving water, it's just a good way to behave in terms of treating the environment."