Councils oppose water reform despite cascade of problems

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A shadow of doubt on the part of the councils seems to pervade the country when it comes to a national “three waters” reform proposal.

The option favored by the government is to withdraw drinking water, wastewater and rainwater services from 67 municipalities and entrust them to four public water service entities.

Boards across New Zealand are not convinced, with many seeking further clarification before making any decisions. They have until October 1 to submit their comments.

But an academic said the councils have “critically underfunded” water infrastructure for too long and the reluctance is due to fear of losing control.

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Dr Andrew Cardow, senior lecturer at Massey University’s School of Management, said the council’s reluctance was more of a “political stoush that local authorities were losing all kinds of voice.”

Hawke’s Bay councils have faced a cascade of water problems for decades, from a campylobacter crisis in Havelock North in 2016, to “crumbling” infrastructure in central Hawke’s Bay, to water brown continues in Napier and sewage overflows into what should be thriving estuaries and rivers.

Four people have died and more than 5,000 people have fallen ill after Havelock North’s water supply was contaminated with Campylobacter in 2016. The crisis sparked a government investigation and led to the Three Waters review in mid -2017.

The water crisis in Havelock North has caused a wave of panic in other councils. Napier City Council feared in 2017 when above-normal levels of E. coli have been found in his drinking water, causing chlorination.

Brookvale Road bore # 1, near Havelock North - one of the bores at the center of an investigation into how the city's water supply was contaminated in 2016. (File photo)

Marty Sharpe / Stuff

Brookvale Road bore # 1, near Havelock North – one of the bores at the center of an investigation into how the city’s water supply was contaminated in 2016. (File photo)

As a result, brown water leaked out of the faucets due to a substance called biofilm (a buildup of organic and inorganic, living and dead material that builds up in the pipes).

Chlorine can react with the biofilm, shaking it from the pipes to the point where it ends up in residents’ sinks, tubs, washing machines and dishwashers.

Napier City Council last week requested a Hawke’s Bay model for delivery of the three waters and was still providing feedback to the government.

“Although the government did not include community engagement in its consultation period, we felt it was important and that we could not give valuable feedback without including the voice of the people,” said the mayor. by Napier, Kirsten Wise.

“Most troubling is the governance structure … which would see our local voice lost and decision making too far removed from our communities.”

Alex Walker, Mayor of Central Hawke's Bay, at the Waipawa WWTP.

John Cowpland / Stuff

Alex Walker, Mayor of Central Hawke’s Bay, at the Waipawa WWTP.

Earlier this year, the Central Hawke’s Bay District Council solicited feedback from its residents on its long-term plan – revealing that the council was grappling with “crumbling” infrastructure and leaking earthen pipes dating back to. over 100 years.

Mayor Alex Walker compared it to the game of Whac-A-Mole, only the mole was a water leak. After one was fixed, another appeared almost instantly.

For more than a decade, the council has been plagued by sewage problems at its sewage plants in Waipawa, Waipukurau and Ōtāne, and the resulting pollution of the Tukituki and Waipawa rivers.

Central Hawke’s Bay is home to just 15,000 people, and the council will need to spend $ 68.5 million to remove sewage from rivers over the next 15 years.

But Walker said “as a region the position remains unchanged” on views on government reform.

“After carefully evaluating the government’s proposal, comparing it to the detailed regional review we carried out together last year and to feedback from our communities, our preference remains that Hawke’s Bay retain control over our services. ‘potable water, waste and storm water,’ she said.

The CHB houses only 15,000 people and city council will have to spend $ 68.5 million to remove wastewater from rivers over the next 15 years.

John Cowpland / Stuff

The CHB houses only 15,000 people and city council will have to spend $ 68.5 million to remove wastewater from rivers over the next 15 years.

Hastings District Council announced Thursday that it prefers there to be a “service delivery and asset ownership entity in the three waters of Hawke’s Bay.”

Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said that following the contamination of Havelock North’s water supply, the council made drinking water its number one priority and worked hard and invested heavily to bring improvements.

Gisborne advisers also voted unanimously to withdraw the government’s proposal in principle at a meeting on Thursday.

“We recognize that change is needed in one form or another. But what is on the table is unacceptable to the people of our region. Our community is saying no, we don’t want to lose our local voice and our responsibility around water, ”said Mayor Rehette Stoltz.

Wairoa Mayor Craig Little said communities were also “very concerned about the transfer of our community assets”.

“The government is rushing the process, without a proper chance to understand what the reforms would mean or for communities and tangata whenua to have a say.”

Principal professor at Massey University, Dr Andrew Cardow, said the government's three-water proposal was inevitable.

Provided

Principal professor at Massey University, Dr Andrew Cardow, said the government’s three-water proposal was inevitable.

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council Chairman Rick Barker said a “regional solution” meant decision-making would stay “close to home”.

Andrew Cardow said the management of local government had become “very complex” and that councils in particular “had been reluctant to give large amounts of funding to projects when citizens might not be able to afford it. cost”. This means an underfunding of critical infrastructure.

Councils only started owning local entities like water in the 1980s, he said. Previously, they were run by water boards, but the boards still had to take care of the maintenance of the pipes – pipes that are either old metal or clay and which are a constant problem to this day.

“Look at what’s going on in Wellington, and it’s been going on for a very long time.

“The government saw that the boards don’t have the function of maintaining water, so they take it away from them. The advice then squeals because the assets are carried away, but only because they have not shown their ability to handle this part of the supply.

“If the councils had shown that they had slowly done something about this over the past 60 to 70 years, then maybe it shouldn’t have happened,” Cardow said.

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