Thankfully, Minister of Local Government Mahuta has announced that the Government is sticking to her plan to protect and improve vital public water services in an affordable manner.

The Government will create four water authorities.

Hawke’s Bay’s four territorial councils will participate in the scheme, like it or not.

The scheme will significantly reduce costs to HB ratepayers (see below).

Ownership of water infrastructure will remain in public ownership; councils will collectively own the new water service entities in which they participate.

These assets will be shifted off local councils’ balance sheets, giving them vital headroom to borrow responsibly to meet other community priorities.

And in a concession to feedback over recent weeks, a more straightforward design of governance and accountability will be fashioned in consultation with a working group of local government, iwi and water industry experts. 

Requisite legislation will be introduced in December. As already signaled, the new scheme will take effect 1 July 2024. 

As Minister Mahuta commented:

“Local councils are trying to deal with the upkeep of aging infrastructure, which is literally crumbling in some of our biggest cities. They face the additional strains of growing population, climate change resilience and extreme weather events, as well as competing for a limited number of skilled workers to do the job.

“It would be irresponsible to pour taxpayers’ money into propping up a broken system, or let households face unprecedented rises in water costs. Currently 43 of the 67 councils do not have the revenue to cover their water services operating expenditures at the moment, let alone once the infrastructure starts failing.”

The Government released Fact Sheets with pertinent information on the status of each region and how local councils would be affected. Here is the Hawke’s Bay Fact Sheet in its entirety.

Be sure to read it — it won’t take long — in preparation for the howls of protest already coming from our local politicians — “shocking” … “dismayed” … “preposterous” … “horrified” … “absolutely devastated” according to our four mayors’ press release issued yesterday. Luckily their comms team has a good Thesaurus!

Here are some key points from the Hawke’s Bay Fact Sheet:

  • By 2051 without reform, the average cost per household to deliver these services will increase to: $7,260 in Central Hawke’s Bay; $4,530 in Hastings; $2,540 in Napier; more than $8,690 in Wairoa. With reform, costs are estimated to average $1,260 per year across Entity C areas by 2051. [The Fact Sheet notes that an alternative regional model, as proposed by local officials, would still see household costs as high as $2,870 by 2051.]
  •  For Hawke’s Bay, the reforms are expected to see the regional economy grow by an additional 246-367 full time equivalent jobs.

  • Reform will unlock an additional $248 million for Hawke’s Bay councils to invest in their communities. This is in addition to the Government’s ‘better-off’ funding of $91 million.

  • The Fact Sheet notes that with many of the region’s wastewater treatment plants discharging to freshwater, reconsenting these systems to meet environmental standards and cultural expectations will become costly for these communities. HB has 10 wastewater treatment plants provided by councils, with 6 discharging to freshwater and 3 to the ocean.

  • In reports prepared for the Water New Zealand National Performance Review, the Hastings and Napier councils reported their pipeline conditions as follows:
    • Hastings: 17% of drinking water pipelines are in poor condition, and 9% of wastewater network is in poor condition. 
    • Napier: 42% of drinking water pipelines are in poor condition, 35% of wastewater network is in poor condition and 10% of the stormwater network is in poor condition. 

Good for our wallets. Good for our health. Good for our service reliability. Good for our environment.

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18 Comments

  1. If you seriously believe the costs of improving the three waters will be lower by centralising the management you must be either stupid or do not understand the problem. If the costs you quote are real, then we are in serious trouble if the government gets its way because they will only be greater under that model. Even worse, the focus will be on those regions with the biggest clout, i.e. the big cities, the regions will be the poor cousins.

    1. Be careful who you call stupid, Trevor.
      To continue to use a system that has proved to be a failure and to expect a different outcome is true stupidity.
      I note that you do not suggest an alternative. No system will be perfect, but the proposals are better than continuing with the present failed system.

  2. Thank you Tom for your support of this initiative. I give the government a lot of credit for proceeding. We can now hope for safe drinking water throughout New Zealand responsible management of wastewater and arresting the declining quality of surface water and beginning to improve stream qualify. There is absolutely no possibly that these objectives will be met by continuing the status quo

  3. Hmmmmmm…….I thought I lived in a democracy where government makes its case and the people decide. Apparently this government couldn’t make an attractive case for the three waters so rather than mess around with democracy they simply hijacked it. Got to give them credit for ramming it in while everyone’s too concerned with their arbitrary traffic lights and no jab no job policies to make An informed decision or make a fight. I think this ‘overreach’ will spell the end of labour. They’ve shot themselves in the foot.

  4. Absolutely the right thing to do. The up in arms political response is purely that! Political!! If they didn’t oppose it, their re-election would be over. In all reality, the mayors probably told government to mandate it behind closed doors! Force us because we cannot be seen to go willingly. Commend this government for getting on with it.

  5. Why would anyone think that Government can solve this issue. If the problems are difficult to diagnose and fix at a local level, why will someone from Wellington be able to solve it.
    They should set the Councils targets and incentivise accordingly.
    The way they’ve gone about this is more like a hostile takeover, this will only lead to bitterness, divisiveness and undermining.

    1. “Diagnose and fix” isn’t the problem, although locals have struggled with this! The real problem is political will and money, neither of which our local officials can muster in requisite amounts.

    2. Kàpai Good News Tom Belford
      Including the 3 waters reform. Minister of Local Government is showing real mature thinking on a number of fronts and doing our nation proud.

  6. Thanks for that solid information which needs to be spread widely. This is a national crisis which requires everyone to work together, like climate change, and not be politicised

  7. Tom, you say “Reform will unlock an additional $248 million for Hawke’s Bay councils to invest in their communities. This is in addition to the Government’s ‘better-off’ funding of $91 million.” So taxpayers will pick up the tab. H B people are taxpayers too, so the cost will fall on the same people.
    The fact is that the communities raising expectations of water quality are running ahead of councils’ willingness to extract the significant money to fix the problem. I have yet to hear a council aspirant promise to increase rates. Or for that matter, parliamentary aspirants to promise increased taxes. With all the short comings, a malcontent of substandard water has far more access to his/her local councilor or mayor than the local M P. What’s needed is an acceptance that water is a priority that needs much more funding commitment by all of us.
    I find it bizarre that our proposed area stretches from East Cape to the top of the South Island. This water issue needs fixing, but this proposal is not the way to do it.

  8. On the other hand it may just be setting water resources to eventually be flicked off to big business or ethnic interests…..depending on who is in government

  9. My major problem with this (apart from the forced takeover position) is the layers of bureaucracy that we are all going to pay for. I find it difficult to believe that we are all going to be better off with this system when it appears the governance will require about 3 additional layers of bureaucrats. Tax/rates will have to pay these people – I have yet to see that payment in any costings published. And what say do we as the suppliers of all these payments in the appointment of these people – seems they’re all just layers of more faceless appointees by Government – and I’d suggest they will be “friends of the Government” rather than people voted for by us payers. Personally I feel we have too many bureaucrats and not enough workers such as engineers, experts in water handling, and even people with shovels. I’d need a lot more information before this received my full support – I do believe things need to change – but this is being bulldozed through and the entities seem to have a lot of very different areas of compatibility which could very well lead to a lot of infighting and parochialism (perhaps the HB amalgamation debate could be a warning of trying to link up areas with totally parochial outlooks)

  10. I had a giggle when you spoke of local politicians, isn’t that what you were and still are inspiring to be?
    Confiscation of local owned assets, loss of local control, with little compensation and local democracy gone – what is next roading – regulatory services?
    Local communities will have no say on assets they once owned, now controlled by others, maybe to be privatised at a latter date.
    The proposed Entity C has 21 Councils up the East Coast and across the Strait, over to the Chatham Islands, presently we concentrate on our issues, now the bigger centres will take precedent. Yes Councils are struggling, but the issue is simply, lack of external funding is needed, because of the burden on ratepayers – this new Entity will not be given any extra funding, but will have the collective ability to borrow considerably more than Councils can.

  11. My comment is this – I wish it was the ‘4 Waters’ and included the marine environment, not only estuarine but areas closely associated and influenced by land use. More recently there has been comment that ‘boundaries’ are going to align with iwi boundaries, which is excellent because Maori environment values are far better long term than allowed under our current system – simply because protracted political consultation and negotiation with vested interest groups has got us nowhere. I travel New Zealand a lot and are horrified by the removal of trees etc to make way for ‘efficient’ dairy farms in areas of light soils, pumice and rock and where grass production relies almost entirely on soluble nitrogen and other fertilisers. These and other transgressions are allowed because our local political systems have failed us. Good on bold government – Bugger the cost – Get on with it for future generations.

  12. What’s the story with the “4th Water” (bottled and sold)? By my reasoning,
    water belongs to all of us, and ‘all of us’ are represented by the Regional
    Council, so that’s where the profits should go. What am I missing here?
    Is it that the various local councils are making good or better money from
    the leases/permits? Please clarify.

  13. Just a reminder lives have been lost here due water not being fit for humans. No one was held accountable it should never have happened is this the kind of accountability you desire. Let’s be clear l don’t want see this happening again who ever is going to be in charge needs to held accountable for lives lost.

  14. Well said, Tom! Well done, Govt….an overdue act of courage…one hopes to be followed by something equally radical re the Housing market.
    Opponents to the “Three Waters” seem to completely ignore the basic fact; that local Councils have made a mess of the water systems, be it Drinking, or Waste, Water. They have been guilty of negligence and incompetence and so people have been made sick, and died!!!!! How can anyone in HB not face up to that?
    Apart from the Competence issue, Local Govt does NOT have the wherewithal to fund the upgrades so desperately needed.
    Talk about local “democracy” is a nonsense. The voting turn out for local elections is pathetic; the connection/dialogue between Councillors and the local Public is, in my experience, with a few exceptions, virtually non-existent.
    Above all, for a tiny country like NZ, with a tiny population, certain elements of our Society must have strong, Central control; e.g. Health; Housing; Education; Energy, and, most obviously, Climate Change.
    Good Drinking Water; effective Waste-water Management, fall into this category.
    The bleating protests coming from some Councils and Council leaders is that their “assets” will be stripped from them.
    I don’t care if Santa Claus owns the “Assets” as long as the Water is perpetually clean and drinkable!!!!!!!!!!!

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