Deputy Mayor Annette Brosnan recently wrote a rousing rebuttal (HB Today Talking Point, 13 Nov) to the Government’s ‘3 Waters’ reform plan, claiming “Independent assessments during the amalgamation debate showed Napier (water) assets were not under-invested in … they met the standards of the day.”

Brosnan, who normally gets her facts right, has totally tripped up on her history here, unless she’s talking about some other Napier.

In 2009 (that’s right, 12 years ago), having made a submission to NCC’s then-pending Long-Term Plan, I posted the following on BayBuzz: When will the s**t hit the fan? The details cited were from the technical materials supporting the draft LTP.

“It goes well beyond the scope of this submission to comment fully on what appears to be the quite fragile and over-taxed state of Napier’s stormwater and sewage systems. The documents give the impression that NCC is triaging its spending against rising needs, as opposed to fronting up fully – and being honest with ratepayers – about the inherent risks and costs associated with living in a low-lying area that requires constant pumping of all wastes, posing public health risks as well as increasing threats to the integrity of the underlying aquifer that supplies drinking water.

“From the LTCCP:

  • Infill development, which is assumed to account for 53% of Napier’s growth in coming years, is projected to increase stormwater run-off three times.
  • Although stormwater run-off is impacting the environmentally sensitive Ahuriri Estuary, industrial development is envisioned for the adjacent Lagoon Farm.
  • Listing stormwater items in need of funding, the LTCCP observes: “Each of the items requires a significant expenditure exceeding six years of the accumulated annual stormwater pipe upgrading budget to achieve any significant benefit to the area.”
  • Parts of Bayview, and all of Jervoistown and Meeanee, have no reticulated sewage systems (and no plans to provide such) and rely on on-site septic systems … in the face of more stringent regulation of on-site systems (many of which are known to be sub-standard) about to issue from the Regional Council, if not from central Government.
  • Meantime, NCC hopefully awaits confirmation that an unproven Hastings waste treatment system, which has plenty of critics, will indeed pass muster and represent a solution that Napier can embrace.
  • Says the LTCCP: “Both the Latham and Greenmeadows sewerage systems are overtaxed during periods of wet weather.”
  • Referring to the difficulty of monitoring the degrading of pipes by wastewater and sewage, the LTCCP observes: “The relatively recent usage of in-line cameras has both provided the means to investigate but has also revealed the potential extent of problems.”
  • And commenting further on the system: “It should be noted that the proposed renewal budget, based on the current set of standard economical lives that is used, is not sufficient to meet the long-term decline in service potential.”

“I could go on. The overall impression … the s**t could hit the fan at any time!

“One wonders whether Councillors have even bothered to read this material, let alone appreciate its implications. Were I a Napier Councillor, this situation would terrify me. I would be demanding an outside review of Napier’s stormwater and wastewater systems. And by “outside review” I mean independent peer review by experts who are not presently on the NCC teat as employees or consultants. An independent “report card” should be issued to the public. 

“These systems appear neglected, and their improvement under-funded, while this Council stands by and asserts its financial prudence. These are arguably the most vital systems and services that NCC provides its residents. If they are literally “going under,” the Mayor and Councillors should be held accountable, and of course the LTCCP spending levels should be modified accordingly.” 

Six years after this post, during the 2015 amalgamation debates, then-Mayor Dalton dissed another consultant report laying out in great detail the infirmities of Napier’s water infrastructure. 

The report from Waugh Infrastructure Management Ltd prepared in 2014 commented that many kilometres of Napier’s stormwater and wastewater pipes had already reached the end of their expected useful lives. Fully 39% of Napier’s wastewater pipeworks and 10% of water supply pipeworks are of the asbestos cement type, and the report noted that all of these would need to be replaced within 10-30 years. The report observed:

“Under Napier’s current renewal funding methodologies, rates will need to increase substantially in the future to meet renewal needs – alternatively debt funding will have to be used. In either case it is possible that the cost of replacing existing assets will fall disproportionately on future ratepayers.”

Nevertheless, Mayor Dalton claimed:“Napier is very well positioned to meet any future infrastructure related growth or renewal challenges … The short answer is Napier’s infrastructure, I can assure you, is in excellent shape.” (Sep 2015)

This is what local decision-making on water infrastructure has produced for the people of Napier. As for Hastings, an explicit HDC decision not to fix a dodgy bore in Havelock North brought about the campylobacter outbreak there sickening 5000+ people.

These are the sins of past local elected officials. But they illustrate dynamics of local politics that never really go away – baubles over basics. What Government in its right mind, facing a $185 billion expenditure to fix this local neglect, could responsibly conclude: “They’ll get it right this time!”

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  1. The Napier and Hastings wastewater treatmant plants do not comply with generally accepted wastewater treatment practises and the contamination of urban stormwater has not been fully taken into account in planning for restoration of the quality of the Ahuriri Estuary .Hence restoration measures proposed are unlikely to acchieve appropriate results. The comment about the Havelock North bore above is totally accurate. The Three Waters approach may possibly result in focus on actually addressing water quality issues without being distracted by building baubles instead.

  2. Yes, Napier City has long ignored its responsibilities to clean up its shameful sewage & stormwater pollution and maintain a robust infrastructure… but why (as heralded under the “3 Waters” programme) should folk from elsewhere pay to do that for them? Surely a more just approach would be for government to enforce the rules by inserting a mechanism into the LGA (if it’s not there already) to take over and directly manage specific strategic assets, for public health and the common good – with the bill for same stopping with Napier ratepayers. Then folk might finally realise that electing do-nothing smiley faces is a recipe for mid/long-term disaster, and take more interest and care in how they are governed locally.

  3. I have been told the Havelock North bore was contaminated with perhaps just a few kilograms of sheep poo which was washed down unsealed control cable holes during the flooding. If so, surely the design was ridiculous and a technician would have found this cause in a very short time. However, we had hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on legal action between the District and Regional Councils to establish which one was to blame. Let’s get a National Body in control I say (even if my description of the pollution event is wrong).

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