No Minister

Three Waters: The issue of our generation

with 14 comments

If time permits, I have decided to allocate all of my blogging time in the immediate future to analysing, describing and providing information on the Three Waters proposals. I can’t think of a bigger piece of reform this country has implemented since the Rogernomics reforms of the 1980’s. I really do think it is the issue of our generation. It has huge ramifications in many, many areas. And it is something that the government has allowed to “sneak” through while it has diverted us towards a pandemic. It is the perfect opportunity for politicians as they undoubtedly follow Winston’s Churchill’s advice of never letting a crisis go to waste.

I’ll start my series by copying, verbatim, an article from the Act Party newsletter this week, Free Press. It’s a great lead in:

We believe the important questions are: Is there a problem? What is it? What is the Government proposing? Will it work? What’s a better alternative?

Taking them one by one, there ARE problems with the three waters. Lead in Dunedin water and campylobacter in Havelock North water are real problems telling us the situation is not perfect. But there are other problems.

A few thousand ratepayers in Kaipara got themselves loaded with tens of millions in debt for an overpriced sewer ten years ago and they’re still paying. Some Auckland beaches are deemed to be unswimmable 20 percent of the time. Wellington’s water is a disaster. Then you talk to developers about getting new sections connected and you start to understand the housing market a bit better.

The problem is that, a bit like DHBs, some councils just aren’t up to modern asset management. They’re also underfunded, because politicians find it much easier to get their photo taken at a summer concert or a council sponsored business than a pipe that’s underground. It smells better, too. That doesn’t apply to all councils, but there are clearly some that need money and know how to do their three waters job better.

The Government’s solution is complete overkill, overlaid with treaty politics that’s got nothing to do with water quality. If they said, ‘we are trying to solve long held treaty grievances over water while improving water quality,’ they would be wrong but at least more honest.

The proposed reorganisation is not stealing assets ratepayers have paid for. The assets will still exist and serve the same properties for a fee. The ‘theft’ hysterics have not helped the situation because they’re obviously untrue. Put it another way, if your council did get compensated, would you trust them with the money?

But there is a huge problem with the proposed new Governance model. It will be remote, complex, and unaccountable. People in Rodney district, 50 kilometres from Queen Street, find Auckland Council unresponsive. Who do you call about your water from Kaitia, 350 kilometres from Watercare headquarters?

What’s more, you’re on a totally separate water system, so what efficiencies could they possibly offer you? The Government said their system would be five times more efficient at managing Whangārei water. Sheryl Mai commissioned a report from Castalia economics, which found that claim to be exactly as implausible as it sounds.

All of that is without mentioning the co-governance aspect. Once again, the Government’s obsession with the two-state solution of treaty partnership is divisive and ineffective. Why would being born Māori give you special insights into governing three waters infrastructure? They just can’t say.

A better alternative is what ACT’s Local Government spokesperson has laid out. The nationwide water quality regulator is a good idea, but it should not regulate a couple of users sharing a bore or a tank. It should only apply to ‘water systems’ with over 30 users.

Some councils are struggling, but the answer is not collective punishment. Councils should be allowed to create voluntary cooperatives, Auckland’s Watercare and Wellington Water are examples that already exist. ACT’s central-local infrastructure partnership model, where councils are funded to build infrastructure with real accountability for using taxpayer money is already a solution to many of the problems.

The Government has made it complicated but it’s really very simple. Create a water quality regulator. Done. Dump the current plan. Easy. Draw up guidelines for voluntary sharing agreements. Simple. Partner with any council of cooperative to fund needed infrastructure with accountability. If you doubt these are good answers, ask the National Party, who’ve copied it all!

Written by Nick K

September 24, 2021 at 9:32 pm

Posted in New Zealand

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14 Responses

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  1. While I agree that this is the issue of the generation, it is to some extent merely a continuation of the already implemented co-governance arrangements for various local bodies and the ethnically split health system in the works: taken together, they are a massive assault on democracy, accountability and economic efficiency, with not much public consultation.


    September 25, 2021 at 9:28 am

  2. The thing that should really worry us is that the issue is regarded as a big nothing by so many people – witness the lack of commentary on this post.

    I know that there has been huge, negative feedback to many rural District Councils, but that’s because circumstance forces rural and small town people into close contact with what their Councils are doing on various issues.

    But as far as the cities are concerned I don’t see much feedback/fightback. Hopefully looking forward to being corrected on that.

    Tom Hunter

    September 25, 2021 at 9:48 am

  3. I think the apartheid type agenda being promoted favouring Maori will become the major issue over the next year or so three waters is probably next in line and they are linked.

    I said on stuff, not sure it will be published, a few minutes ago in an article on Nelson water not to let Manaia Mahuta get control of their water.


    September 25, 2021 at 10:06 am

  4. It is all a smokescreen for handing the assets over to Maori in the next round of treaty settlements. How many have Ngai Tahu had so far.


    September 25, 2021 at 10:41 am

  5. Good to see ACT picking up on work done by National’s Chris Luxon who has led the charge against Three Waters. Fascinating the comment from a very senior public servant I know who had it that the public service in NZL has the capacity to deal with one major reform at any one … right now there are three; RMA reforms (three Bills replacing one), Three Waters and the restructuring of the public health service with each overlapping the others to a greater or lesser extent. There is huge potential for all three to go tits up even if you disregard the contentious overlay of Maori co-governance being proposed/imposed.

    The Veteran

    September 25, 2021 at 12:40 pm

  6. Reading Hansard 23 September and considering answers given by Minister Mahuta to patsy Q5 and supplementaries, including particularly from Eugene Sage, the intention never was to allow any ratepayer consultation. The Minister will bulldoze ahead with satisfying Maori demands for control of water with the rest of the guff about water quality being just a sideline.

    I think ratepayers and local authorities have been poorly dealt with in terms of adequate consultation on such a radical shift in critical infrastructure ownership and management.

    It will only cost more to turn on the tap for ratepayers and a whole heap of further grief for urban landlords being clobbered with water bills generated by tenants. I am quite satisfied my local authority is doing a sound job in relation to this infrastructure. The supposed reform is dishonest and not required. I have not wish to accede to activist demands where water is concerned.


    Peter and Denise Williamson

    September 25, 2021 at 1:05 pm

  7. I’m just holding onto the forlorn hope that one day the Nats might get the opportunity to manage these new progressive entities a little better . . . can’t realistically expect anything more than that.

    Porky Roebuck

    September 25, 2021 at 1:30 pm

  8. PR … I can’t see the enabling legislation being enacted this term. That being so the solution is in the voters hands. Elect a National/ACT government and it won’t happen. Re-elect a Labour/Greens administration and you’ll get what you deserve.

    The Veteran

    September 25, 2021 at 1:36 pm

    • I hope you’re right.

      Porky Roebuck

      September 25, 2021 at 2:49 pm

  9. Having acted as an expert witness for the Havelock North enquiry, I would like to think I have a little insight into the common perception that what happened there is an exemplar of Local Governments inability to manage water assets.

    In reality the situation was more complex, involving a combination of personalities at HDC (…both those managing water assets but also those approving budgets who delayed replacement of the Brookvale bores), technical competency on the part of Public Health (..who ultimately were charged with certifying the infrastructure was suitable for public water supply), combined with geological and climate-related factors specific to that site and particular event.

    But what I found most interesting about the whole enquiry process was that it was not really focused on determining what the actual mechanisms and circumstances that caused the incident were*. Rather, there seemed to be a real determination to apportion culpability evenly between all the agencies involved (Hastings District Council, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, Public Health etc). It was certainly obvious from the lines of questioning pursued by the Hearing Panel that this was the outcome sought right from the outset. For example, the Regional Council got hammered on quite a few matters which were quite peripheral to the incident itself (…..that’s not to say they were things that could have been done better, rather, they had no bearing whatsoever on the contamination that occurred).

    I certainly came away from the process quite disillusioned, and there was comment at the time among several of the other experts that there seemed to be an agenda (other than scientific enquiry) in play. With the benefit of hindsight, what that was would seem relatively obvious now.

    So, while I am no fan of the current clownshow, it would seem the proposed reforms were well in play before Labour got to power. Possibly all they have done is added an extra helping of co-management to signal their virtue (….I very much doubt that they would be capable of anything more). Certainly reforming water, DHBs and the RMA at the same time promises to be an almighty clusterfuck…..ambition is not even in the same suburb as competence.

    Finally, what I find most laughable among the current justification for the reforms is the joke report by Beca looking at costs (hundreds of bazillions) to get water infrastructure up to scratch. Conflict of interest much???? From a brief peek at a draft of the document it looked to be exactly what you would expect from a fox designing a henhouse. I actually happened to be sifting about in one of their offices the other day and overheard comments from a engineer on the phone chuckling about having future workstreams sorted. Kinda summed it up nicely for me….

    *In contrast to the Walkerton enquiry ( which was held up at the time as the only incident of similar scale in the western countries over the past 40 or so years

    Dave K

    September 25, 2021 at 2:27 pm

    • The ‘Deep State’ in action, eh?


      September 25, 2021 at 2:44 pm

    • Dave K I tthink that was under a Labour Government. I live in Hastings and my adult daughter suffered quite badly from the Havelock Water contamination – she lives in Havelock North.


      September 25, 2021 at 2:51 pm

    • Dave
      The Havelock North water case is being used by the government as one of the major reasons why CPE (Chartered Professional Engineer)isn’t good enough (I don’t think any CPE was involved in the design of it but that is just a trivial issue in their eyes) and engineers need licensing by a new bureaucracy. As usual they haven’t a clue what they are talking about. They behave as if all they have to do is pass a law and things will be magically fixed and perfect. .

      MOD: Hope you don’t mind but just wanted to put out there name behind the acronym)

      Chris Morris

      September 25, 2021 at 4:23 pm

    • No problems moderator. I got the Acronym wrong anyway. It should be CPEng. The government want to have them as Licensed Engineers.

      Chris Morris

      September 25, 2021 at 5:41 pm

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