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Water switch risky and costly

Despite Martinborough’s 2019 e coli scare, Carterton’s ongoing boil notice, and Wellington’s latest pipe burst earlier this week, the Greater Wellington Regional Council is sceptical about the implementation of Three Waters.

At a GWRC meeting, concerns were raised about the system and the implications for the future of local government.

GWRC councillors saw the proposed governance structure of Three Waters as overly complex.

The central government introduced the Three Waters Reform Programme to improve regulation and supply of drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater across the country.

The reform would overhaul current local government water management.

According to the Department of Internal Affairs, most Three Waters assets and services, but not all, were owned and delivered by local councils.

Councillor Chris Kirk-Burnnand said they had been caught up in a tidal wave of change that they had little control over.

He also said the lines between what was considered stormwater, which would come under Three Waters, and floodwater, which councils were responsible for, was blurred.

South Wairarapa mayor Alex Beijen had said that the Three Waters reform was a “mockery of proper consultation” after the last round of workshops.

The reform provided limited ability for council to influence entity administration and gave customers and communities an incorrect impression that councils would exercise significant control.

Reform risked placing an excessive accountability burden on water entity management, GWRC said in its meeting agenda.

It called for increased visibility for the timeline of the transition process. It noted there were significant risks and costs for councils and Wellington Water in transitions, one being the impact on staffing.

The document stated if reform went ahead and confirmed large scale management entities, any central New Zealand-focused water entity should place Tararua and Horowhenua districts in the same grouping as the Wellington region.

GWRC wanted one of the new entities to be based in the Wellington region.

It also raised concerns that investment prioritisation by the water entities would need to happen at multiple scales. These would be national, regional, catchment, and local.

A process would be needed to ensure clear and influential roles for different factors in implementation.

It stated groups would include iwi/ Maori, land-use planning entities, councils, customers, and local communities.

GWRC noted the principles and process for prioritising investment should be specified within the statutory framework.

“This will help ensure investment is equitable across communities, and joined-up with land-use planning, climate change-related planning and other infrastructure investment decision making, particularly to support growth,” the agenda said.

The council wanted to take an integrated approach to water services and respect Te Mana o Te Wai.

GWRC said this would support the establishment of water entities that could deliver the full suite of Three Waters services while also recognising the complexity involved in transferring responsibility for stormwater from council to these entities.



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