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The 'Three Waters' - Where To From Here?

You could say that since the Havelock North scare, water has been exercising the mind of both Government and local government. And there is an element of both "I told you so," and "who pays to sort this mess out?"

I don't think that anyone had any idea that this situation could be this bad - certainly viv-a-vis the rest of comparable countries, we are a country mile from getting it sorted, and Government is clearly very concerned about "Where to from here?' The political ramifications are manifest, and a multitude of inefficient and ill-led local authorities are clearly incapable of meeting the standards necessary, let alone being in a position to pay for the upgrading of every type of facility now required.

I return to my previous post to emphasise that for most, the willingness to 'raid the piggy-bank' that has for so long comprised depreciation reserves, is the principal reason we are in this state of affairs. Staff including our own, have been only too willing to follow the dictates of their political masters who are in the main ignorant of the basic principles of financial management, in order to maintain basic standards.

By way of comparison, the entire UK and Scotland is covered by a few water authorities that maintain far higher standards that are possible here with our dispersed structure. Our Government clearly wants something similar here, and Local Government NZ is in the process of developing a policy by which it can 'discuss' the matter with Government, which has stated that its three objectives are:

Our health and safety: depends on safe drinking water, safe disposal of wastewater and effective stormwater drainage.

Our prosperity: depends on adequate supply of cost effective three waters services for housing, businesses and community services.

Our environment: depends on well managed extraction of drinking water, and careful disposal of wastewater and stormwater.

The document goes on to state:

"The government is undertaking a comprehensive review of three waters services

  • Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta has announced a reform programme to transform drinking, storm and wastewater.It is focussed on the challenges facing the sector, including funding pressures, rising environmental standards, climate change, seasonal pressure from tourism, and the recommendations of the Havelock North Inquiry.  The review is in its second stage.
    • Stage One – This stage explored the issues and opportunities with three waters services by gathering and analysing information. This was completed at the end of 2017.
    • Stage Two – This stage commenced in March 2018. It is looking at options for improving the three waters system, including the management, service delivery, funding, and regulatory arrangements.
  • Central government will work closely with councils, iwi and all stakeholders with an interest in three waters services in order to develop options and recommendations by the end of the year."

The LGNZ paper that came out on Friday in response  is here

This makes very interesting reading, and will give you some idea as to just how seriously they are taking the Department of Internal Affairs document.

The question that immediately arises is that if Government is finally prepared to 'bite the bullet' and centralise the operation around the three waters to either the regional councils, and to a new structure altogether - say three in the North Island, and two in the South Island, then this raises questions as to the need for, and viability of the entire district council structure. After all, they can hardly be justified solely for the purpose of planning, and road maintenance. Making 'hand-outs' to community supplicants is hadly justification for a raft of highly paid councillors and board members.

More on that question later, but they had all better start looking at just where they will stand should the consolidation occur - the current arrangements cannot continue - that is clear.




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