To opt in or opt out: So far, the Central Otago District Council has not officially revealed its position in the Three Waters reforms that could mean some massive changes in the way water services will be delivered in the South.

In the past year, councils across New Zealand have been working with the Government to review the management of drinking water, stormwater and wastewater. The Government plans to take some functions away from councils, create water entities and move oversight responsibilities to a new regulator.

It was announced last week that four new water entities had been proposed for New Zealand: area A, Auckland and Northland; B, Waikato to Rangitikei including Taranaki; C, Lower North Island including Gisborne to Wellington and parts of Tasman, Nelson and Marlborough; area D, rest of the south including the Ngai Tahu takiwa (tribal territory) of Marlborough and Tasman.

And while councils have known this was coming, the gap between the cost of opting in or out of the reform, and the projected figures by 2051, has been described by Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan as “shocking” and the numbers “both staggering and questionable”.

According to the figures presented by the Department of Internal Affairs, the average cost per household per annum in 2021 was $1071; in 30 years that is projected to be $1640 with reform or $7790 without reform.

The Government data has come from responses given by councils across the country during a Request for Information process, Central Otago District Council chief executive Sanchia Jacobs said. This took place from October 2020 to February.

“The data relating to Central Otago is specific to the responses given by CODC staff to the more than 1000 questions relating to our assets, staffing, maintenance etc.”

The council would be seeking clarification about how the Government determined some of these figures, and perceived errors, such as counting 121 full-time equivalent employees at the council engaged in Three Waters-related work.

But Ms Jacobs stressed that discussion would be ongoing and would not be drawn on the council’s view.

“At this stage the council does not have a position. Over the coming months it will be important to process the information, clarify areas of uncertainty or concern (e.g. possible mistakes) and verify numbers.

“There is still further information to come from the Government, which will help complete the picture so that the council can decide on the position it will take on behalf of Central Otago.”