A Word from Tim Cadogan, Central Otago Mayor

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Considering effects of Bill on small suppliers of water

This is my fourth monthly column on the Three Waters reforms, and I will focus on changes that may be coming for small suppliers.

Before that, just letting you know that as the Three Waters debate is warming up, the council will be increasing its communications on this subject before any decision is made.

This is an incredibly fraught and complex issue, and we want to be sure everyone in the community has the opportunity to understand more about the issues.

So, to the small suppliers.

To be clear at the outset, everything I say from here is based on the current Water Services Bill (WSB) which is at the select committee stage in Parliament.

It may change significantly before becoming law, or it may not.

I can only speak to what we know in the here and now.

Under the Bill, any rural supply that is more than a sole supplier, so say a farmhouse with a bore that feeds a worker’s house next door, will become a water scheme, and will need to abide by the regulations and reporting requirements of the WSB.

I mentioned in a previous column that the WSB has 20 offence provisions, some carrying extremely heavy penalties.

The council simply does not know how many unregulated schemes the new regime will affect in our district, but we do know 86% of households in Central connect to council supply, meaning roughly 3400 people don’t.

How many of those are not single suppliers and are therefore going to be impacted by the WSB is unknown at this stage.

I don’t want to be scare-mongering talking again of the 20 offence provisions, and my viewing of the regime is that it is similar to our health and safety requirements.

Remember how worrying those changes were when they came in, but health and safety plans quickly became part of life.

My belief is small suppliers will have some initial unwelcome increased costs and paperwork but will then carry on providing their own water as they have done in many cases for generations in Central.

Where things get scary for the council is that under the WSB, if any supplier can’t or won’t comply with the new regime, the council will need to take it over, bringing the scheme up to compliance and managing it from there, and in the meantime supplying compliant water, likely by truck.

While discussions would need to be held on who pays for that, the logistics of undertaking this could be staggering. And the liability under those 20 provisions would transfer to the council, i.e. the ratepayer.

The WSB is silent as to what happens to a council that opts in to the reforms but the expectation is the liability will fall on the new entity and not the council, in that case.