Having been caught with their pants down, it does appear that HDC is trying to haul them back up … hastily!
As we write, HDC staff, from the Chief Executive down, are working to develop an action plan for dealing with the now-chronic water shortage at Bridge Pa. The CEO, as well as the Regional Council Chairman and CEO, have met with an Action Group from the community, and short and long-term options for a permanent solution are being vetted. Options will be presented to the Hastings Environment and Development Committee on Thursday.
It’s gratifying to see HDC shoulder its responsibility, albeit belatedly, for meeting the immediate water needs of the affected community (with co-funding from HBRC) by trucking water to Bridge Pa residents … with provisions also being made to help residents store more water at their homes. At least no one at HDC has displayed the attitude of Murray “Drill Deeper” Buchanan at the Regional Council.
That’s the best that can be done for now.
However, when the dust settles, HDC and the Regional Council need to be called on the carpet to explain how this situation developed. Someone needs to explain how a community can have the water sucked out from underneath it by those with more political muscle, and why local and regional authorities cannot foresee a disaster like this coming. This is much more than a “dry weather event.”
And don’t get me started on the non-vigilant DHB, which stands by sucking its thumb instead of proactively monitoring and blowing the whistle when lack of safe drinking water is threatening public health.
What’s the point of having elected representatives at all — five Councillors representing Hastings on the HDC, another four representing Hastings on the Regional Council, and seven elected DHB Board members (though, in fairness, they’ve just arrived back on the job) — if these people aren’t close enough to their constituents to notice or prevent a situation like this?
With safe drinking water provided for this season, HDC — as the local body responsible for such infrastructure — must serve up a plan, including a funding scheme that taps into available central Government monies, to ensure future water security for the residents of Bridge Pa.
And then it must make a very high priority of implementing that scheme … just like it fast tracks other building projects, like grandstands, when it has a mind to! I’m told that any community water reticulation scheme would take 12-18 months to install. Bridge Pa’s problem started pre-Christmas. HDC needs to set aside business as usual and commit to “turn on the spigot” on its permanent scheme by next Christmas … ten months from now.
For its part, the HB Regional Council — the authority governing water allocation in the Bay — must get its head out of the ground regarding water management. It needs to shake itself out of study and research limbo, stop giving away water consents, and begin thinking and acting as if water were a threatened commodity. And it needs to get on the fastest track possible an overhaul of its Regional Resource Management Plan to deal with a future that promises both water scarcity and increasingly adverse impacts on water quality.
Should there be any higher priority for the HBRC than rationalising and modernising its water policies. No! Who are the Councillors who will lead that charge and ensure that all necessary resources are made available to get the job done?
One can argue that the current water extraction practices and policies of our local authorities effectively deprive some residents of drinking water supplies on which those communities have a right to depend. And of course, those water policies are intertwined with land use policies that sanction the activities on land that drive water consumption and pollution in the first place.
As Mike Mohi noted at this week’s meeting of the Regional Council’s Maori Advisory Committee, to some, access to safe drinking water is a human rights issue.
Not everyone, including some of our local politicians, might agree with that formulation (I do), but then who does get “first call” on the region’s aquifers? I’d like to see any local politician attempt run for re-election in 2010 on a platform of industrial and irrigation water first, safe drinking water second.
The Drill Deeper ticket!