South and West Otago are enduring a dry spell, which is nothing new.
In fact, 50 years ago, a similar spell saw the community band together to combine resources, design and build water schemes in association with local and central government to service this important sheep, cattle, and dairy farming region. It was a community focused solution for a problem only a community could overcome.
Rural water schemes like ours are key to the past and future prosperity of our communities.
The foresight and grit displayed by the pioneers of these schemes was extraordinary, and would be near impossible to establish today.
However rural water schemes like ours are now subject to increased water quality standards, administered by Taumata Arowai (the water quality regulator), because most of these schemes have evolved over time to supply household water.
They not only supply rural needs, but also small communities such as Kaka Point, Clinton and others.
At present, schemes like ours will transfer from council ownership to Water Services Entity D under the Three Waters legislation in July 2024.
Early on, the leadership of Clutha District Council recognised that community rural water schemes like ours were at risk of being swallowed and forgotten. Action was taken to make rural water schemes more visible to the Government.
This led to the Government forming the Rural Supplies Technical Working Group.
This group developed a set of recommendations about how rural water throughout New Zealand might be treated.
They identified early that there was a world of difference between rural water and urban wastewater, drinking water and stormwater.
As such a decision was made that schemes like ours can be taken back into community ownership if more than 85% of the scheme’s water is for non-household use, (all schemes in the Clutha District qualify) and that 75% of users who vote, vote in favour of community ownership.
Following that, the Clutha Rural Water Scheme chairs, Clutha District Council representatives, and Department of Internal Affairs personnel got together to develop a plan which may inform a pathway for Clutha rural water (The Rural Water Steering Group) going forward, whether that be community ownership or within Water Services Entity D.
Independent consultants, Morrison Low were engaged and have now prepared a comprehensive report looking at the existing infrastructure, what needs doing and the financial proposition on how community ownership might be able to progress.
The information gathered and presented in the report is also intended to inform how rural water schemes like ours could also be approached nationally.
With the work concluded, we now have a good understanding of the challenges and implications of community ownership versus Water Services Entity D control of schemes, as does the Government. The report is available online to inform users, stakeholders and others that are interested.
As scheme representatives we have found it a satisfying experience to move from a very ugly public meeting at the Town and Country, to a positive position where the Government have a far greater understanding of what our Clutha rural water is about; 2400km of pipeline, 12 treatment plants, 95% of water used for stock, good water quality and reliability, along with $26million in recent and committed upgrades.
Perhaps more importantly, out of all of this, the Government has acquired an understanding of our communities’ requirements for ongoing success, not just for animal and people’s welfare, but for the environmental benefits and prosperity that reliable, enduring rural water schemes bring our whole economy.
It’s now a waiting game to gain a better understanding of what the Water Services Entity D costs and service might look like under Three Waters reform.
Until this next phase of work is done, farmer members of the working group cannot make any final recommendations as we only have one half of the information.
But as our community has shown before, we are not opposed to hard work in the face of community problems, especially when it comes to our water.
– Clutha Rural Water Scheme chairmen John Whiteside, Richard Peirce, Stephen Jack, Roger Cotton and Stewart Morrison are some of the farmers in the Clutha and West Otago areas who currently operate the district’s Mixed-Use Rural Water Schemes alongside the Clutha District Council.