Options for Three Waters?

Clutha's rural water schemes could well be excluded from the looming Three Waters reforms, we are told.

That is good news for the schemes and the communities and individuals who created them and make them work. Such quality operations should not be sucked into a huge organisation.

But the schemes also illustrate one of the issues with the Government’s grand plan, with its revolution as 67 councils are stripped of water, wastewater and stormwater assets and responsibilities. Four entities are planned, the southern one covering almost all the South Island.

Despite the scare-mongering advertisements — and despite local government falling short — there is much right about the efforts and practices of many councils. Nonetheless, all will be lumped into the new organisations.

There is supposedly a right to opt-out, but such is the scepticism that speculation is widespread the Government will bully and bribe if not coerce councils to join. The entities rely on just about all major councils being part of them.

The Otago Daily Times reported at the weekend that the Department of Internal Affairs partnerships director Allan Prangnell visited Clutha and said the schemes were well run. Upgrades would leave residents with a high standard of drinking water.

Taking into further account the size and complexity of the Clutha schemes, it was questionable whether they should be included in the reforms, he said.

Many are stock water schemes from which households draw supply.

Also visiting the district was the chief executive of the soon-to-be-in-place new water regulator Taumata Arowai, who was also impressed.

Taumata Arowai will insist on high-quality water and wider scrutiny of Three Waters. Even without structure changes, large amounts of money in many parts of the country will have to be spent to meet required standards.

There is little argument improvements are required and costs for ratepayers will rise. Changes are needed and co-ordination and co-operation between councils will help, as they have in the Waikato.

But are there other options? Can evolution build on the strengths and overcome the weaknesses?

Taumata Arowai will push the laggards. Can other mechanisms be put in place to help councils work together and those that are struggling?

The Government put forward unreliable figures to support its plan.

It said that between $120 billion and $185 billion will be needed over the next 30 years. Indeed, billions of dollars are required. But Waitaki, as an example, is concerning.

Mayor Gary Kircher has estimated about $80 million to $100 million as the cost of continuing upgrades. The official figure was closer to $1.5 billion.

Horowhenua supposedly had 10 times more stormwater outlets than it had residents, one news service has reported.

The overall household figures beggar belief. The cost for the services under present arrangements could be between $1900 and $9000 over the next 30 years, depending on location. The reforms would reduce that to between $800 and $1640.

Economies of scale and sharing of expertise and the like will create such massive savings? Really?

What about the high salaries, the bureaucracies? What about the fact all the work on the ground digging up streets will be accomplished by contractors in much the standard way?

Various questionable assumptions and bad data have piled up. They make the councils look bad and the proposals look great.

Smaller and local — albeit with the regulator oversight and expert help — can work well. There is more scope for local feedback and involvement, for innovation.

Just ask the farmers in the Clutha rural schemes, and no doubt many rural schemes in other places.

The plans will throw together the good and the bad and create entities that are too large and unaccountable. Surely, there are better ways to improve Three Waters’ performance.

Surely, it is better to build on what we have rather than plunging into a complex and dubious alternative.



Christchurch City Council voted to reject 3 Waters yesterday. The Government will not want a messy battle over this, so they are better off scrapping the proposals before any more money is wasted.