CHB sewerage pond with infamous failed 'floating wetlands'

This week, CHB Mayor Alex Walker front-paged with her continuing opposition to the Government’s ‘3 Waters’ reform proposal.

This comes on the heels of Water New Zealand releasing its latest National Performance Review 2020/21 that assesses and compares drinking water, wastewater and stormwater provision across the country. Guess what … local government flunks badly.

While our mayors moan on and on about Government ‘not bringing the people along’ on the need for water services reform, it is our mayors who have failed to take that leadership responsibility, just as they and their predecessors have failed to provide First World quality water services.

Two failures – a failure to perform in the first instance (so we have s**t in the Tukituki, s**t in Havelock North drinking water, s**t in Napier’s streets and the Ahuriri Estuary, and s**t in the Wairoa River) and a failure to lead responsible public discussion of the real issues (so we have s**t in the public debate as well).

The real issues aren’t about trumped-up ‘loss of democracy’ (pure council turf protection) but rather about safe, dependable water systems.

Which the Water NZ Review (here it is if you want the real facts) makes abundantly clear we are not getting from local government.

At the same time, findings of the Ministry of Health Annual Report on Drinking Water Quality 2020-2021 showed that more than 20% of New Zealanders received drinking water that failed to comply with drinking water standards. Havelock North knows what that’s like.

Our drinking water systems on average leak 21% of the water they should supply, and it’s getting worse each year – yet we lament ‘water security’. There were more than 2,000 dry weather sewage overflows in the period just reviewed. The list of failures goes on and on. And we read about them regularly right here in our own backyard. Yet our mayors protest they can do better and ask us to rally around local democracy.

The water industry will need an additional 6-9000 skilled workers over the next 30 years if we are to meet safe drinking water standards and improved environmental outcomes. No local authority is going to solve that problem.

One day we fault our councils for not being able to fix potholes or not cut down the wrong trees; the next day we sign petitions to protect their right to give us shitty water systems. Go figure!

Far more credible than our mayors is Brian Hanna, who served nine years as mayor of Waitomo District. He has been independent chair of the Central/Local Government Steering Group charged with advising Government on the proposed reforms. He is also a board member of the new national drinking water regulator, Taumata Arowai.

Here’s what Hanna recently wrote in Farmers Weekly (4 April 2022):

“What has concerned me has been some of the misinformation that has been fed to communities by a small number of mayors and councillors, when the research shows their communities will benefit from the reforms.

“I do question their motives and whose interests they are representing.”


And he notes: “The biggest losers if reform does not proceed are likely to be smaller rural communities in NZ who will face huge, eye watering costs to upgrade infrastructure networks over the foreseeable future.”

I urge you to read Hanna’s full article here (page 25)

Mayor Walker knows full well that her constituents’ water bills will rise from $300-$400 a year to $2000 or more.

But she can oppose the reforms because she has an insurance policy. She expects Hastings and Napier ratepayers will come to the rescue and subsidise their country cousins in CHB and Wairoa … as the Hastings and Napier mayors have committed.

How many Hastings/Havelock North/Napier ratepayers know your mayors have made that commitment with your money as part of their counter-plan to the Government reforms? When were you consulted? So much for ‘local democracy’.

Personally, I support such cross-subsidisation. CHB and Wairoa residents are entitled to the same water quality and level of service as the struggling masses in Havelock hills, Bluff Hill and Poraiti.

But I happen to believe the Government plan will better deliver on the equity promise to all New Zealanders and ensure the actual quality and affordability of future service.

That said, if a day comes when I see Mayors Hazlehurst and Wise write the cheques for CHB’s and Wairoa’s urgently needed improvements in water services, having covered their own needs, no one will applaud more loudly than me.

Amalgamation will have arrived!


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  1. I agree the current local body led water management has been inadequate and centralized control has the potential to correct the problem. But, centralization is not a guarantee of success. The politicalisation of “Three Waters” has been woefully managed and in particular the troubling “ownership”
    aspect not determined. Much open, and honest public discussion is required.

  2. Absolutely agree with you, Tom. But it seems much if the public have been captured by the notion that local gov’t can deliver better than a wider regional/more centralised/standards-driven approach – when all the data belies that.

  3. A well reasoned take on the local situation. Too many years it appears the mantra of local politicians has been “re-election before necessary expenditure”.

  4. As a CHB ratepayer watching the going,s on at WWTP,s all have seen many a consultant payed very well to fix the problem of not having human waste end up in our rivers how many suceeded ??? not one , the problem still exists after many many millions and various Mayors and councilors voted to spend our money , sad and wasteful

  5. Thanks for bringing some balance and facts to this debate because it’s been hijacked by vested interest groups protecting their own patch with scaremongering and misinformation. Most people don’t understand the issues around 3 waters and base their opposition on misleading headlines.. if the facts are not widely communicated pretty soon 3 waters will be terminal and we’ll leave ‘dirty’ water for the next generation to clean up at much greater expense.

  6. 1976. the Hasting’s M.P..Bob Fenton a very keen fisherman and fishing journalist at the Tuki Tuki River edge commented to me that the river stinks polluted by “the Waipawa and Waipukurau S**T.,46 years later the politically inspired incompetent leaders of council are still in denial of the problem.Reform Overdue,the Bullet has to be eaten !!!

  7. You are absolutely right Tom. Councils should be hanging their heads in shame. Talk talk talk and no or too little action. It is a National problem. Hard to explain to overseas visitors that most waterways in NZ are polluted and good drinking water is not everywhere. And for us who live here who have to listen to al this talk and promises for (too) many years now without any substantial change. Our waterways are the arteries of our natural world and we treat it with no respect. How do we explain this to the next generation? Keep the word up Tom !

  8. Thank you for the link to Brian Hanna’s well balanced and ‘on point’ article in Farmers Weekly (April 4). Everyone who has any ‘anti’ thoughts about Three Waters must read!! Actually, anyone who wants to better understand the issues should read. Gosh, can’t help thinking opposition from local authorities to this opportunity looks and smells just like the opposition to Amalgamation all those years ago – even the same players!! What an opportunity we missed then…. but still, as you hint, when needs must!

  9. Sadly I think the main reason people have been against the 3 waters plan is purely because itis being spearheaded by Nanaia Mahuta so it’s easy to be suspicious of ulterior motives and the whispers that she’s doing something that will benefit Maori and no one else!!? And because we have a portion of the NZ population who aren’t happy with the term “Partnership” because they think they’re gonna miss out on something, they will never take a realistic look at what is being offered in this proposal. It saddens me that those duly elected officials running our local governments are actually playing on this premise to keep the majority of constituents on their side and this is pretty easy considering it’s a well known fact that Maori are the least inclined to get out and vote hence why at election time the targeted voters are not Maori!!?
    And no this isn’t a racially directed comment!!
    It’s a realistic comment based on what I see and hear!!
    And yes I get out and vote at every Central and local level Government elections

  10. Was the author not partly responsible for three waters in this region a few years ago? This attitude is probably why he was not re elected, and it’s still a big no to amalgamation from me but everyone is entitled to an opinion

  11. An interesting article which quite deliberately ignores the elephant in the room
    All ratepayers paid for the infrastucture. Central government paid for none.
    But central government is proposing to give 50% of control of our assets to 15% of the population without any compensation or democratic input
    It has also given the 15% a right of veto on any decisions as a 75% majority is required .
    There has been a refusal from Nania Mahuta to rule out rent seeking from iwi
    She has also refused to release the advice she says she was given by Crown Law to justify seizing 50% of our assets. That refusal is the subject of a High Court case yet she is still pushing her agenda
    Let’s have a binding referendum attached to voting papers the next council election. Give the people who paid for the assets a right to vote

  12. This, in my opinion is correct Tom.
    We need Safe drinking water and disposal of Black water and it is a responsibility of all to achieve this.
    If all the water that was used by the population was as clean going off the property as we would expect it to be coming on to the property we would not be in this mess.
    Water testing should be for ALL of us at the point waste water leaves our property!
    So all contaminants both chemical and biological would be accounted for and mitigated! whether you are in the town or rurally!

  13. i’m fine with the concept. i’m not fine with the detail, in particular that the sheer size of the entities created will mean hands-on operations are parcelled out to multi-nationals to deliver (because we lack companies with that scale in NZ) via long (35 year) contracts. what is that but privatisation by stealth?
    that aside, i still cautiously support 3 Waters for one reason, which no-one talks about: it is, or should be, a backdoor way to begin to achieve sustainable land-use reform.

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