Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) is urging central government to keep its policy options open, and work collaboratively with local government to find the best solution so that New Zealanders continue to enjoy safe drinking water.
That’s the message that was delivered at the Water New Zealand Conference in a speech by LGNZ Vice-President Stuart Crosby, who reiterated local government’s long-standing call for clearer water standards, co-regulation, and more stringent performance monitoring.
His call supports many of the recommendations from the Havelock North Inquiry, which investigated the cause of the 2016 water contamination incident, in which 5,000 people fell sick, and was also linked to the loss of four lives.
However, local government is concerned that central government is increasingly fixated on putting policy solutions in place that would radically restructure the entire three waters sector, which includes stormwater and wastewater, without working in partnership with the owners of these water assets.
“Where we don’t agree with the Government is the belief you need to rationalise the entire water sector into a handful of regional water monopolies to fix the current problems in the drinking water space,” said Mr Crosby in his speech.
“The Havelock North Inquiry correctly identified problems with the provision of drinking water, and that is where we should focus our attention.”
“Why the Government has included waste and stormwater in its policy review isn’t entirely clear, and we aren’t convinced the available data and analysis support the scope of the regulatory changes being considered. This is hardly the spirit of open collaboration that was promised when the government undertook its Three Waters Review.”
He said characterisations of New Zealand’s water system as “broken” were mistaken, and quoted central government’s own research that showed the number of drinking water treatment plants that failed to meet drinking water standards had declined significantly since 2010.
“To be clear, local government is not arguing against change,” said Mr Crosby. “But any mandate for change must be built on hard data, evidence-based policy proposals, and it must be an open and collaborative discussion to find the best way forward.”
“We are not against aggregation either. Only the mandatory part. Wellington Water, which is jointly owned by Greater Wellington Regional Council and Hutt, Porirua, Upper Hutt and Wellington city councils, shows the sector is capable of independently consolidating services and infrastructure where it make sense to do so.”
“What we are calling for is for local government and central government to have an evidence-based discussion on our water system. Only then can we have the confidence to talk about innovative policy solutions that strike a better balance between health, sustainability, and affordability outcomes.”
LGNZ has played a leading role is the three waters policy space, having conducted a National Information Framework Survey in 2014, which collected detailed data on the three waters assets and services from a total of 70 councils. LGNZ’s 3 Waters Issue Paper provides an overview of this data, and can be downloaded here.
This data was used as the basis of LGNZ’s 3 Waters Position Paper, which was published in 2015, which argued for a refresh of the regulatory framework to ensure delivery of quality potable and waste water services.