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You can lead a council to water, but …

Consultation on the 2023/24 Annual Plan is currently open in South Wairarapa.

But when it comes to three waters, what is there, really, to consult on?

The council’s proffered water budget options [Times-Age, May 4] beggar belief.

Three funding options are in theory on the table – but in reality, only one is viable: Option 3.

The catch – it would leave ratepayers close to $1000 poorer every year.

The situation is an indictment on every council that has kicked investment in water infrastructure down the road.

With millions of Three Waters Reform sweeteners evaporating, and Affordable Waters Reform still a couple of years away, how much longer can it continue?

The cheapest option – Option 1, which would see this year’s water budget of $3.541 million remain in play – makes for grim reading.

At this level of funding the wheels well and truly fall off.

The draft annual plan says the deficit would lead to “operational failures, health and safety issues, increased reactive maintenance costs, and potential prosecution” [emphasis added].

With regard to maintenance, the draft plan states drily that, “Funding at this low level will result in the disestablishment of the operation in South Wairarapa, and the operating model would have to rely solely on subcontractors” [again, emphasis added].

The fact that funding at this level for reactive maintenance would result in Wellington Water’s disestablishment locally is dire. There would be no emergency funding, despite the fact that in the previous two years, an average of $372,000 has been required to meet unexpected costs.

“Existing non-compliance issues will continue to worsen.”

These issues aren’t new in South Wairarapa. For years the Times-Age has reported on the problems plaguing Featherston and Martinborough’s wastewater treatment plants, flooding across all towns, and Greytown’s now non-compliant water treatment plant.

Lest we forget, close to half of that water is lost in the pipes before it even reaches ratepayers’ taps.

Option 2 is an improvement, but not by much. Again, there is no contingency for emergencies.

Sludge removal at wastewater treatment plants would cease to exist, as would active leak detection and control – the total budget of $4.871m simply can’t support it. While the core budget of $1.46m would cover minimum maintenance costs in the districts, it still “excludes responding to unexpected incidents and events such as Fitzherbert St flooding in periods of high rainfall”.

Unwelcome news to Featherston residents, already at their wits end about what even the mayor describes as a “lake” on the town’s main drag.

Option 3 means [on average] an additional $11.62 per week for each water connection, an additional $6.38 for each sewer connection, plus an extra $0.70 for each urban ratepayer.

The windfall $7.496m for the council to adequately maintain and deliver water services will be provided by an annual sting of $972.40 to every ratepayer.

With unprecedented demand at Wairarapa’s food banks, Option 3 is highly unpalatable if not untenable for many residents.

The outcome would appear to be predetermined, with consultation merely a tick box.

In an effort to keep rates down, council will veto Option 3.

In response to non-compliance and emergency issues, rapid loans will be taken up, and ultimately the can will continue to roll down the road.

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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