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Water reforms murky

A splash of water in the Waiohine River. PHOTOS/FILE

The Government’s Three Waters reform programme, launched in July last year, continues to receive mixed support.

At a South Wairarapa District Council meeting, chief executive Harry Wilson said the council would be questioning the Department of Internal Affairs – particularly regarding the representation and prioritisation of small and rural communities.

A joint statement by Wairarapa’s three councils said they would each consider the proposed reforms.

The Government proposed the future management of our drinking, waste, and stormwater change hands to four entities across New Zealand.

This would see Wairarapa covered by a water entity managing the east coast of the North Island, the lower west coast of the North Island, Wellington, and the top of the South Island.

The Government announced a $2.5 billion package to support local governments through the reforms.

Of that $2.5b, Local Government New Zealand said in a report to councils that $15,528,465 would be set aside for Masterton, $7,501,228 for South Wairarapa, and $6,797,415 for Carterton.

Last year, the Times-Age reported as much as 69 per cent of Greytown’s water was lost through infrastructure.

The Times-Age also reported as much as 45 per cent of Masterson’s water was lost through leaky pipes.

Carterton District Council issued numerous boil water notices in March and April after high E coli readings were found in its network.

Mayor Greg Lang said councils had been given until October 1 to consider the Government’s proposals, including its $2.5 billion support package, and give feedback to strengthen their proposal.

He said it was understood councils could opt out of being part of the new entities, but this had yet to be confirmed.

“I want to be clear that October 1 is not a deadline for making a decision. We are using this time to gather as much information from Central Government so we can better understand the long-term impacts these reforms will have on our communities,” Lang said.

He said councils were unaware of what the Department of Internal Affairs would be asking of them. Still, they were able to give feedback and better understand when the government would start its community consultation.

The Government passed the Water Services Regulator Act, establishing the new regulator Taumata Arowai. It also introduced the Water Services Bill, which was going through the select committee process.

Peta Campbell, Mike Robinson, and Garry Foster protest outside the GWRC building in Masterton, calling for fixed infrastructure before the Wakamoekau Dam project.

The Water Services Bill was intended to give a set of tools to Taumata Arowai to ensure drinking water safety standards were achieved and maintained across New Zealand.

Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson said there would inevitably be changes for councils and communities.

“The status quo isn’t an option. Whether we decide to opt-in or out, the new regulations proposed in the Water Services Bill will require all councils to comply. This compliance will require more investment in infrastructure and services.

“These are some of the things we are discussing at council tables across the region, to assess the likely impact on our communities.”

She said while decisions would be made on a council-by-council basis, the decisions they make would have an impact on our broader region.

“This is a complex proposal, and the impacts of our decision will have a lasting effect on our communities.”

South Wairarapa Mayor Alex Beijen was eager to ensure the process was not rushed through without the right information available to residents.

“Decisions that impact the wider region need full community consultation, with relevant information made available – these changes will be very long-lasting, so any decisions made must be well-informed.”

The Far North District Council announced it would be provisionally opting out of the reform – with some media reporting a quarter of the 64 councils nationally were close to following suit.

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