Kick back on three waters

Susan O’Regan

A rural-based Waipā District councillor says she is unconvinced the government’s Three Waters reforms will provide any benefits for the district.

Te Awamutu dairy farmer and Kakepuku ward councillor Susan O’Regan said the reform plans had been rushed out with little time to consult the community.

“In the absence of detail, it is difficult to say precisely how the community’s voice and opinion is best secured, but it needs to be ascertained somehow and play a significant role in whether the reforms go ahead and if they do, in what form,” she said.

The government’s plan is to merge 67 different water organisations currently run by councils, into just four and transfer all council water assets to a new national water regulator – Taumata Arowai – which would set the standards for quality.

Four mega water authorities would own and manage drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services on behalf of local councils.

The government estimates the average household bill for water services could be as high as $9000 by 2051 if the country does not take up the Three Waters plan. Councils have until the end of September to provide feedback on the proposed reforms.

The government recently announced a $2.5b sweetener package across New Zealand with Waipā set to get $24 million for its water supply.

O’Regan said she was concerned the government might just mandate the changes without either council support or community consultation.

“I firmly believe that this reform so too rushed. With a reform of this magnitude, it is incumbent upon us to ascertain the community’s views and we must therefore consult with them before any decisions made.”

Mayor Jim Mylchreest, who has been an active opponent to the changes, told The News the reforms were a “nonsense” and said his concern was the proposed water regulator might be made mandatory.

“From a regional and rural New Zealand perspective, it’s just another service that gets taken out of the community. The centralisation argument based on purely efficiency reasons, doesn’t build good communities,” he said.

“I do have concerns that won’t be allayed until I have more information around issues like the transfer of Waipā assets and the retention of a local voice for the people of our district.

Jim Mylchreest

“I accept the notion of national good and accept our sector must do what is best for New Zealand overall. I support that but do note that most councils, including Waipā, have done a pretty good job with water.

“It is disingenuous of any government to bemoan a lack of investment in infrastructure when I can point to multiple examples of government under-investment over many years in sectors like health and education,” Mylchreest said.

Waipā has already invested in water meters across the district funded by a loan and paid off the life of each meter.

Neighbouring Hamilton City Council does not have water meters nor does Kāwhia, in the Ōtorohanga district, which needs a new water and sewage facility.

“The community can’t afford it. We’re (Waipā) going to be contributing to areas when we’ve already paid for our water meters,” he said.

Mylchreest said he doubted whether a National government would think any differently.

“Paula Bennett was always pushing for it.

“I don’t know what it is, but central government doesn’t rate local government. Our asset management is far better than central government.

“They don’t seem to be looking at the big picture,” said Mylchreest.

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