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Mr Rowley, Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher and others mayors across the South Island are calling for the Government to suspend or withdraw its new campaign running across TV, online, social media and print.
Councils across New Zealand have been working with the Government to review the management of drinking water, stormwater and wastewater. The Government plans to take some functions away from councils, create water entities and move oversight responsibilities to a new regulator.
The new advertisements, running as part of the Government’s Three Waters public awareness and information campaign, ask people to "imagine Aotearoa without good water", and feature cartoon people and creatures in and around green-coloured water.
Mr Rowley described the campaign as "appalling".
"The photos of people swimming in green sludge, it’s just sensationalising it and I don’t believe it’s very helpful at all," he said.
"It just shows the lack of understanding from central government about the delivery of the Three Waters, and our real serious concerns about the whole process."
"We want to see some transparency and honesty around the delivery of the service and the costs associated with it, and until that time, the ratepayers are only getting one side of the story.
"We’ll continue to call for more answers and once we have them, we’ll be able to inform our communities and help them to understand what a very complex issue it is."
Mr Kircher, who also chairs Local Government New Zealand’s provincial group, said the campaign reminded him of "propaganda-type posters".
"Yes, there are problems for many ratepayers with the affordability of water in the future, and there are definitely some councils which have made politically expedient decisions to put off necessary work that their ratepayers will now have to pay much more for, but let’s tell that story accurately, not with emotional, extreme propaganda."
A Department of Internal Affairs spokesman said the advertising campaign was "designed specifically to create a sense of shared responsibility and to look at the issues from a New Zealand-wide perspective".
"It is acknowledged that the challenges are different in different parts of the country, but without urgent reform, over time, many of our communities will face unaffordable costs and water services and infrastructure will continue to face unacceptable levels of decline," the spokesman said.