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Councils are moving into a critical point in the Three Waters Reform, still without knowing the true impact of losing or keeping the delivery of these services and what the changes will mean at a local level. In an overview, The News sets out to show where the Three Waters Reform is at, as Mary-Jo Tohill reports.

Councils are moving into a critical point in the Three Waters Reform, still without knowing the true impact of losing or keeping the delivery of these services and what the changes will mean at a local level. In an overview, The News sets out to show where the Three Waters Reform is at, as Mary-Jo Tohill reports.

During September-October, councils across New Zealand will be asking for more details from the Government before they commit their ratepayers to opting in or out of the reform of how drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services will be delivered in the future. Councillors are due to vote on it by the end of this year, and preparation for the formation of new water services entities (board appointments, establishment process, workforce, etc) will take place during 2022.

Central Otago, Queenstown Lakes and Clutha district councils are among a 10-council committee formed in Otago-Southland to come up with a consensus and ask questions about the Government proposal that would have these services delivered through four entities, to take over the job of councils. With a new water regulator Taumata Arowai, essentially, water services would be publicly owned.

The Government released a rigorous TV ad campaign that portrays the centralised delivery proposal as a fait accompli. Nevertheless, Central Otago District Council (CODC) has begun to post short videos, presented by Mayor Tim Cadogan, on its website so that people are informed of the issues and can have their say about the delivery of these services.

The first of these introduces what the Three Waters are, what the Government proposes, how it will affect the council and the financial implications.

Content for future videos includes what would happen if the reforms went ahead, how the local voice would be heard (especially for smaller communities), iwi involvement, the impact on non-council water suppliers, the distribution of Government incentive money for instance, what happens to it if the CODC opts in standards will have to change, regardless of the reform.

Before lockdown, the CODC indicated that drop-in sessions would be held so that the public could ask questions and express views in person.

Until it gets more definite answers, the council is taking the lead from Local Government New Zealand, because of the uncertainty around how water services will be delivered to the community in the future.

There is much information yet to learn about the reform and how it will affect the district.

The rationale behind the reforms is a 30-year “systemic failure” of the Three Waters infrastructure, highlighted by the large-scale infection in the Havelock North water supply in August 2016.

It would require an investment of more than $185billion over the next 30 years to bring the infrastructure up to standard, a cost which the Government believes would be too much of a burden for councils, in a system that “lacked economic regulation, consistent data collection and enforcement of standard”.

Cost is a big concern: a comparison between opting out of the reforms or not is a significant part of the equation. According to the Government figures, by 2051, ratepayers would be paying $7790 per year for their water services if councils opted out, and $1640 if they opted in. Councils are still having those figures investigated.

The Queenstown Lakes District Council has also released information through its website and its newsletter, Scuttlebutt.

While the Queenstown council said it understood the need for change, to ensure people had an adequate drinking supply and that wastewater and stormwater systems worked effectively and protected the environment from harm, it also believed there were “a lot of questions that needed to be answered before we have full confidence that the changes being proposed are in the best interests of our ratepayers and residents”.

The council encouraged people “to get informed” and it would be using various media to do this.

Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan, who chairs the Otago-Southland councils committee, said the council would have initiated its engagement and information events this week if it were not for lockdown “and it is our intention to consult extensively with our communities .. enable the public to judge for themselves what is the best for Clutha now and into the future”.

It was essential that councillors maintain what had already been exhaustive due diligence process because ultimately, it was the councillors who had the responsibility to vote as they saw fit on this matter, he said.

Other The News went to print the Southern Mayors realised a statement they had formally requested a pause to reforms to allow more time for consultation.  Read the Otago Daily Times article here.