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Her stance on the issue yesterday, during a report to councillors, appears to be at odds with council chairman Andrew Noone.
Mr Noone, just one day earlier, joined all 10 leaders of Otago and Southland’s councils and asked Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta for more time before decisions were made on the water reforms.
The water reform process proposes transferring delivery of stormwater, wastewater, and drinking water services from individual councils to four new public providers across New Zealand.
The Government’s case for change argues only through the benefits of scale afforded by the four new providers could required upgrades to infrastructure be made.
However, Mrs Gardner said some of those asking for more time wanted to wait until after a review on the future of local government.
But it was not clear what "waiting" would achieve, she said.
It also appeared there was confusion about the role of the new water services regulator, Taumata Arowai, she said.
"Anyone who thinks they can ‘opt out’ (of the reform) and ‘stay the same’ is probably not understanding that’s not actually an option," Mrs Gardner said.
"Perhaps people think the option is status quo or reform and it’s not," she said.
"Status quo will not exist because Taumata Arowai will be in place.
"Regardless of whether you are local government or part of a water entity, you will have standards to meet and the way those standards are enforced is going to be different.
"It’s not going to be the same as it is at the moment."
Mr Noone said the proposed pause was to better inform councils, particularly elected members and their communities of the reforms.
He said views across the South Island varied.
"Some see it as a great opportunity, others see it as quite different in that regard."
On Wednesday, Ms Mahuta said gaps in the present system had led to contamination incidents, infrastructure breakdown, and stormwater overflows that had caused frustration for ratepayers.
The water services reform programme had been worked on over the past four years, she said.
"All the way through this process ... my officials have been engaging regularly with councils and their representative organisation, as well as with iwi and industry bodies to ensure the Government proposals are fit for purpose.
"This is a priority and none of this is a surprise," she said.