Bills on water issues in the pipeline

Dr David Clark "helps" with the demolition of the building on the former Cadbury’s car park site...
Dr David Clark "helps" with the demolition of the building on the former Cadbury’s car park site on Castle St yesterday. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
As anyone who has ever overseen the letters to the editor column of a newspaper could tell you, few things get people more worked up than an issue involving water.

Coincidentally, Parliament is now considering several very different water-related pieces of legislation.

One affects a very small number of southern residents, the others will affect everyone.

In order of scale and imminence ... the Gore District Council (Otama Rural Water Supply) Bill will very likely become law next week.

It is a Local Bill, a relatively rare piece of legislation required when a national law needs to be passed to enable a regional body to achieve something in its own back yard.

In this case, that would be to allow the GDC to transfer ownership of the Otama rural water supply scheme from itself to a new company owned by the people who use the water.

The Local Government Act already lets a council do that, but only if a "small water service" is involved.

Otama is certainly small, but not small enough: the scheme serves 223 households, two schools and a marae, but a small water service must serve 200 or fewer people.

There is a school of thought that this is far too minor a matter to take up valuable parliamentary time.

On the other hand though, Parliament is there for all New Zealanders, and if the people of Otama want to ensure the future of their water supply their concerns are as valid as those of the people of, say, Onehunga.

Not that anyone makes fun of the accent of people who live in Onehunga - the first reading debate featured multiple MPs having a crack at the Southland "R".

A nice touch for this Bill was that the governance and administration select committee actually travelled to Gore for hearings, which wasn't as much a trek for Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean as it was for her colleagues .

The recent committee stages debate were more sober though, and foreshadowed the debate to come on other water legislation with much more far-reaching impact.

Barring minor and procedural amendments, the main change to the Otama Bill, sponsored by Lawrence-based New Zealand First list MP Mark Patterson, was a new clause promoted by Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson.

That requires the newly formed water company to provide a satisfactory report that it is supplying safe drinking water, "in accordance with any relevant regulatory requirements".

That last bit is where the second Bill before the House comes in.

Just back from select committee consideration is Health Minister and Dunedin North MP David Clark's Health (Drinking Water) Amendment Bill.

This Bill's wellspring was the Havelock North water contamination outbreak in 2016, and will bring into effect many of the recommendations from the subsequent Government inquiry.

Health is a portfolio where it can feel that if anything can go wrong it will, so for Dr Clark this Bill brings some welcome relief - it has been supported by all parties.

However, its being behind Otama in the Parliamentary queue posed MPs a problem: with a new regulatory scheme still to be introduced, the future owners of the water scheme could find themselves signing up to meeting a future standard they might not know was affordable or attainable.

That remains a live point, but for now the company will have to provide a report to the satisfaction of the Medical Officer of Health that Otama's water is fit to drink.

Back to Dr Clark's Bill, which streamlines the system for ensuring drinking water is safe, and that water safety plans are in place.

The health select committee reported back last week with relatively few changes.

The most interesting was the removal of the phrase "all practicable steps to" from the legislation - Parliament would far rather authorities were clear they had to make drinking water safe, not just try really, really hard.

For those who are eagle eyed, they might have spotted a third water Bill on the Order Paper: Dr Clark's Health (Fluoridation of Drinking Water) Amendment Bill.

If you want to see what a really controversial water debate looks like, just wait for the letters and emails to roll in on that one.

Then there is a broader piece of work Dr Clark and local government minister Nanaia Mahuta are labouring on, which would introduce broader reforms of overall water management.

What decisions the Government makes in that area, particularly regarding water treatment, may well prove surprisingly influential come election time.

Disaster zone

Mark Patterson painted a bleak picture in his contribution to the Building Amendment Bill last Thursday.

In five minutes he levelled hundreds of historic buildings, collapsed Stadium Southland, devastated Invercargill and Whanganui for good measure, and took out a series of dams as an afterthought.

There was a serious point of course: the Bill introduces new powers to manage buildings in an emergency, and after the Christchurch and Kaikoura quakes clarity in this field will be welcome.

In A Frenzy

Dunedin South MP Clare Curran mixed both common vernacular and high oratory while laying in to the Opposition during the Education Amendment Bill (No 2).

"When you boil it all down, what the guts of their opposition is to this Bill is that they're miffed," was her opening salvo, followed with a literary reference to Nikki Kaye's "frenzied Orwellian opposition".

Big Brother intervened later though, with assistant Speaker Poto Williams telling Ms Curran she had given her less speaking time than expected so could she please wind up.

It would have been nice if she had said "before the clocks strike 13" as per the opening line of 1984, but that was an opportunity missed.

A Swing And A Miss

Demolition work began at the new site of the new Dunedin Hospital this week, with Dr Clark swinging a sledgehammer for a photo opportunity.

To his credit, he eventually did a fair bit of damage to a wall ... but it's hard to ignore his first attempt, a massive air swing.

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