WDC prepares for Three Waters Reform

2 Jun 2021, 3:40 PM

Waitomo District Council is preparing for what has been described as a ‘once in a generation’ change for the way water services are delivered in this country.

Central Government’s Three Waters Reform could result in new regional water entities taking the reins from local councils to provide the three water services – drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater.

Waitomo District Council General Manager Infrastructure Services Tony Hale says the Three Waters Reform programme is a massive undertaking which will have significant implications for councils and the communities they serve.

“We believe it’s important to let our community know what is happening in this space as it will not only impact Council, but also everyone living in the district,” he says.

“We will be providing regular updates to our community when we ourselves receive information, so that our community will be well informed when a decision by Central Government is made.

What does this actually mean?

Central Government has indicated that more investment is needed in the three waters  infrastructure in order to meet the environmental and public health aspirations of all communities.

The scale of investment needed to do this across the country would be almost impossible for councils to fund on their own.

As a result, the Government announced in 2020 it was undertaking a major Three Waters Reform, and is proposing to shift control of three waters services from councils to a small number of multi-regional, publicly owned entities. These are yet to be determined, as well as the boundaries.

These entities would then be responsible for the three waters networks, compliance and health and safety standards of drinking water. They would also be responsible for setting water supply charges and water rates in each community.

Tony says Waitomo District Council is in a fortunate position that significant investment in water infrastructure has already taken place previously.

“Infrastructure wise, Council is in a good space as we’ve already made substantial investment in the past by upgrading our water and wastewater treatment plants. Of course, there will always be regular maintenance and upgrades of our underground pipe network, but we are still in a good position if Council was to transfer its three waters assets and network to a new entity.”

What has happened so far?

When Central Government announced the Three waters Reform in 2020, councils were asked to participate in tranche one of the reform, which involved signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Crown.

All councils including Waitomo District Council signed an MoU, and as a result WDC received Government funding of $3.5 million to support water supply and wastewater projects in the district.

The MoU also meant Council accepted the reform’s principles and objectives and agreed to work with Government and neighbouring Councils to consider regional approaches, assess the programme and decide if they will be involved in the future.

“We’ve invested heavily in our waters infrastructure over the past ten years, so any reform needs to take that into account as well as being beneficial to our ratepayers in the long term,” says Tony.

The $3.5 million is funding more than 20 projects which are focused on improving resilience, reducing interruption of supply and reducing maintenance costs of the wastewater network.

“We based our projects around what was achievable by the delivery deadline of March 2022 and opportunities for  local contractors. Not only will this funding create employment, but it also brings forward aspects of our work programme by 15 years.”

One of the main projects will be to install backflow preventers district wide. Funding will also go towards water monitoring systems to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements.

All water treatment plants – Te Kuiti, Mokau, Maniaiti/Benneydale and Piopio will have money spent on them, including purchasing back up equipment, such as generators which help keep operations running 24/7.

Uncertainty to be addressed

Currently, there is still a lot of uncertainty around how water supply, wastewater and stormwater services will be delivered to the community in the future, but WDC recognises the importance of documenting the journey, as well as keeping its community informed.

“Impacts on our community, price harmonisation and equity, financial viability, and perception are just some of the key themes councils are seeking clarification on,” says Tony.

“This is why WDC has made the decision to not undertake any significant extra work outside of the Government-funded projects in the three waters space in near future, for example installing water meters and charging residents based on water consumption.

“We will continue our business as usual, and will update the community when information comes to hand.”