BayBuzz has been reporting regularly on the Government’s unfolding strategy with respect to how New Zealanders will receive safe drinking water and well-managed stormwater and wastewater treatment systems going forward. (See here and here)

The handwriting has been on the wall for months now, since Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta’s original announcement last July of a full review of our dreadful water infrastructure situation.

The situation is undeniable – water systems neglected for decades by local councils are leaky, collapsing, unfit to meet rising need and plainly dangerous to our health … as we know well locally, deaths have occurred.

And now, the latest report given Government is that it will cost up to an estimated $185 billion nationwide to fix the problem (revised from ‘only’ $46 billion estimated six months ago), and that process, once set in motion will itself takes decades.

The Government first moved back last July by applying some Novocain to hapless local government officials and offering an initial funding band-aid as an enticement for them to cooperate with the strategy review and to help support some most urgently required remedial repairs.

Hawke’s Bay’s councils received $50 million in such symptom relief. The Government has now spent $1 billion on water system reform. A tiny downpayment on what must come.

At the time, local officials were told they would have the choice of ‘opting out’ of any future consolidation plan. Only a fool would have believed that offer would endure.

Already the long-term message from Government was crystal clear:

  • Local governments have stuffed up this most core function.
  • We can no longer trust either their competence or their political will to fund critical water infrastructure.
  • And moreover, at this point the neglect has created a need for repair and renewal on a scale that local government cannot afford.
  • So, instead of continuing to rely on councils (i.e. ratepayers) to foot the future bill, the remediation will need to be paid for (and directed) by central government (i.e., taxpayers).

I hope you realise that from a ‘paying the bill’ standpoint, this is simply a matter of taking the money from your left pocket instead of your right one.

With the hope that it will be more wisely – and fairly – spent on a national basis. I note ‘fairly’ because the Government properly notes that every citizen of NZ — including those in rural areas with small rates bases — should have equal access to safe water and environmentally well-managed water. 

While the water centralization train has been gathering momentum, Hawke’s Bay’s political leaders have continued to fantasize that they will not ‘lose control’ of their water management authority and their water infrastructure asset base (as deplorable as it is), which helps support their borrowing.

But it’s time to get real. Local control of water infrastructure is doomed. Death by drowning. And rightfully so.

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  1. Quite correct – local government has fiddled and ignored this for decades – Napier is a prime example – more interested in having no debt than in keeping infrastructure in good condition – at the time of the amalgamation vote I was highly amused by the statement that Napier would have to take on Hastings’ debt load. How the worm has turned – all that Napier deferred maintenance would probably have Hastings saying that they wouldn’t like to take on Napier’s debt (current and future). Local government has ignored their responsibilities for so long that central government really has no choice but to take over. Does this mean we need fewer local councillors as well?

  2. Havelock North failure was not because of failing infrastructure it was a total failure of management. The problem was identified 19 years previously and the council had plenty of warnings which were acknolaged by those who were responsible. Its time we passed laws that make decision-makers responsible. This single change will result resolve water quality at a reasonable cost not the stupidly bloted estimates we are facing today.

  3. My understanding of the Havelock North water debacle was that sheep poo contaminated water went down holes for control cables due to no power for the electric sump pumps. I’ve wondered ever since if this simple cause justified the actions taken later. One example of a later action was how hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on legal action between Regional and District councils to attribute the blame, money which could have be used more wisely. I have a nagging doubt the best economic solution was not identified and executed. Maybe we got a sledgehammer to crack a nut!

  4. As now well realized, the Havelock North water supply failed due to a lack of essential upgrading of the infrastructure; the well-heads failing to meet national basic design requirements, particularly in terms of well-head height and farm stock exclusion. It should be obvious to all that competent water infrastructure control is a matter of national importance and demanding high-level management, free from the petty machinations of rural pumpkin-patch politics. We are most fortunate that central government is now employing non-political, top flight personnel, to plan future management of our national water system; critically essential for public safety. This belated move away from back-paddock , gumboot “wisdom” should have evolved years ago.

  5. Hawke’s Bay, like, the rest of New Zealand. Is much like a cars mudguard, all shiny on top & SHITE UNDERNEATH!! Far, far, too important an issue for petty politicking!! Central Government (NOT Councils) need to take charge of ALL of our waste & potable water services. The sooner the better!!

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