Water supply connection could be costly for council

A debate over water reached boiling point yesterday, as Dunedin city councillors approved a farmer's request to take water from an ageing council pipeline.

That was despite concerns the decision could create a precedent, complicate planning for the security of the city's water supply and even lead to a $25 million bill for ratepayers.

The debate at yesterday's infrastructure services committee meeting came as councillors considered a request from Clarks Junction farmer Jim MacDonald for a new out-of-zone water connection.

Mr MacDonald, from Mt Gowrie Station, already had two water connections on his property, but wanted a third to the Deep Creek pipe as a back-up for stock water during peak summer periods.

He made his case at Monday's public forum, threatening to block council access to the pipe unless his request was accepted.

However, council acting water and waste services manager Laura McElhone told yesterday's committee meeting the pipeline - and the nearby Deep Stream pipeline - were to be replaced by a single pipeline from 2036.

That was part of the council's new security of supply strategy, unveiled last year, which had allowed $11 million in network spending to be removed from the council's long-term budgets.

The council had allowed some historic connections for farmers in the area, but those decisions had proven to be short-sighted, made at a timeof limited council strategic capability, she said.

Stock water connections could be cancelled by changing council bylaws, but the process would be "interesting", she said.

"Legally, with a couple of hoops to jump through ... we can disconnect stock water," she said.

Allowing Mr MacDonald's connection would encourage other farmers in the area to seek the same deal, and each additional connection would make the eventual decommissioning of the pipeline more complicated, she warned.

However, unless the pipeline was decommissioned, the entire supply strategy would need to be reconsidered, and retaining two pipelines would cost the council an extra $25 million over time, she said.

Technical issues involved in the connection to the pipeline could be overcome, but there was an "incremental risk" of more failures along the pipeline with each new connection, she said.

"At some point, we have to say this is the last one."

The questioning and debate that followed continued for nearly two hours, and grew heated as Cr Lee Vandervis objected to committee chairman Cr Andrew Noone's handling of the meeting.

Councillors eventually voted to allow the connection, but with conditions including an acknowledgement the supply would cease if the pipeline was decommissioned.

Other conditions set agreements on connection costs and other charges, and required council staff to work with Mr MacDonald on a more appropriate access agreement.

Mayor Dave Cull was satisfied the risks identified - including the "scariest" prospect of additional costs - had been addressed.

"Clearly, we have to have some mechanisms in there to prevent that [extra costs], and we do."

However, Cr Vandervis argued the case against the deal was "clear-cut".

"We are potentially buying enormous amounts of trouble ... and potentially enormous expense."

The decision came after councillors considered a request from the owners of a Dunedin bed and breakfast business - Arden Country House - for an out-of-zone connection to the city's northern pipeline.

The owners had lost access to their water bore supply on a neighbour's property after a dispute with the neighbour, councillors heard.

Ms McElhone said the decision was one for councillors, but warned it could encourage further development along the pipeline and represent "the thin end of the wedge".

While the council could terminate stock water supplies, it could not do the same for domestic water supplies, once granted, she said.

Councillors eventually voted to leave any decision until after council staff sought further information, with a report to follow, but only after Cr Noone used his casting vote to confirm the move.

chris.morris@odt.co.nz

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