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Council supports major water service reform



hands-4903050 960 720-453JULIA WADE

Kaipara waters will be flowing differently in the future now that local council have signed central government’s largest ever water reform, aka ‘Three Waters’, which will see the district receive a $2.35m boost to solutions for water-based projects.

At a meeting on August 26, Kaipara District Council (KDC) councillors made the decision to go with the reform, which is aimed at remodelling the operation of New Zealand’s waste, storm and drinking water sector, condensing the 67 current providers around the country into only a handful.

The restructuring came after the Havelock North campylobacteriosis outbreak four years ago, August 2016, which saw more than 5000 residents become ill and possibly contributed to the tragic deaths of three others.

Under the new proposal Kaipara, Whangarei and the Far North districts water services will merge with Auckland.

However the signing did not come without reservations Kaipara mayor Dr Jason Smith says, who has previously stated concerns regarding the reform’s ‘blanket approach’ and potential to diminish local management of water services and drown local voice.

“This is a very fast-moving story, it’s a lot more complicated than the immediate horizon of the decision which we made at the meeting. The elected members spoke passionately about what is afoot here… expressing their concerns in regards to the bigger picture and the longer-term uncertainties about what may be ahead,” he says. “We had to make the first right decision, signing the deal, and now we have to make the next right decision… so we’re working through this step by step…. but from the point of today, the community is better off by $2.35m by the decision to sign.”

The money is earmarked for water projects in the district retaining to storm, drinking and wastewater, and is now in the hands of the council officers, who are currently exploring different options.

“Where is that project? Don’t know yet but the officers are now able to work confidently looking into projects that have already been consulted on through the last long-term plan process.”

Council officers will present plans and ideas to elected members at the next council meeting scheduled for September 10, although currently the venue is subject to Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.

Northland region is also to receive a further $2.35m of ‘equivalent value’ for water projects, although it is not yet determined how the money will be spent, leaving a possibility that some of the funding may ‘find its way back’ to Kaipara.

Central government intentions have been ‘made very clear’ regarding water infrastructure changes for every district in the country, Smith says, but where the current of Three Waters will take NZ councils is unclear, ‘and there is a long way to go’.

“There are things that we cannot know and which are currently unknowable, but this is the choice of central government,” he says. “It is fast moving and council have no insights as to where this is going, we can only make the right decision and then make the next right decision after that… which is what Kaipara council is determined to do. It is an emerging story for councillors and we will also communicate clearly with the community as this story unfolds.”

§ For more information read rnz.co.nz/news/ldr/422660/kaipara-mayor-warns-of-costs-in-water-reform, by Local Democracy reporter Susan Botting.

Millions of dollars was needed to maintain and upgrade Northland's infrastructure for safe drinking water into the future.

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