Strong turnout at Three Waters event

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    SOME Southland councils’ water infrastructure appears to be nowhere near as bad as what has been painted by central government.

    The Three Waters reforms came under the spotlight last Thursday when the Invercargill
    Workingmen’s Club was packed out by people gathering to listen to veteran broadcaster Peter Williams presenting a different viewpoint.

    Williams, speaking at the New Zealand Taxpayers Stop 3 Waters Roadshow, was concerned about disproportionate representation between iwi and councils, with the imbalance removing council governance rights and ownership.

    ‘‘This government seems to think that all problems can be solved in this country if they, and only they, run the show. Hence the desire for centralisation.’’

    Councils did not need Wellington politicians and bureaucrats to tell them when major infrastructure needed to be built, he said.

    Under the government’s reforms, New Zealand would be divided into four water entities with Entity D covering all of the South Island, except for Nelson and Marlborough.

    Last month, Infrastructure Minister Grant Robertson said people needed to accept change
    and, without reforms, households were facing water costs of up to $9000 per year, or face the prospect of a substandard service.

    Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta announced a shareholding structure for the nation’s councils, which voiced concerns of asset ownership.

    Ms Mahuta said Cabinet had agreed to changes ‘‘to ensure councils, iwi and communities have a strong voice in the new entities’’.

    Shares would be population based, with one share per 50,000 people.

    Mr Robertson said ratepayers and local communities could not keep paying more for services which had been under-invested in for too long, and put health at risk.

    But Southland District Council (SDC) has provisions in its long-term and annual plans to
    borrow $197 million over the next 10 years at a fixed 3% interest rate to address ageing infrastructure.

    Invercargill City Council (ICC) infrastructure group manager Erin Moogan said last year the
    ICC’s fully compliant Three Waters assets were valued at more than $1.2 billion, with $16.5 million debt on its water services, not $71 million debt as included in the [government’s] model.

    An ICC letter to Ms Mahuta in September 2021, stated ICC would receive $23 million compensation for the assets.

    Invercargill city councillor and infrastructure chairman Ian Pottinger said ICC was one of the few councils which had planned well for the future and it was impossible for Entity D to achieve its claimed 45% efficiencies due to its geographical spread.

    If council retained control, ratepayers would pay an average of 4.1% over 30 years. Under Entity D, the community would see annual water rates/tax increases of 5.7% on average over 30 years, he said.

    ‘‘Affordability of all options under this reform remain a significant concern.’’

    SDC manager of operations and programming water and waste, Joe Findley, said in the past five years SDC had attended 64 burst pipes across the district and 32 sewage spills.

    The Eastern Bush scheme was a Ministry of Health-registered supply subject to the requirements of the New Zealand Drinking Water Standards which the plant does not meet.

    SDC was planning to upgrade the Eastern Bush scheme which has a long-standing boil water notice.

    SDC staff could only cite one further boil notice being issued, when aerial spraying contaminated water supply.

    Between July 1, 2017, and April 30, 2022, ICC staff attended 273 water mains issues, 148 sewage spills and no boil water notices.

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