Three Waters in turmoil as local elections approach

The councils – including the 31-member opposition Three Waters group, Communities for Local Democracy – broadly support greater Maori influence and voice in decision-making. However – and despite the task force’s changes – most oppose the government’s model, with a recent poll of 291 mayoral candidates showing that more than 75% were against the reforms.

Timaru Mayor Nigel Bowen said his council’s main concern was the “economic ease” water control brings to the district, and supports calls for a bipartisan solution on such an important issue.

Selwyn Mayor Sam Broughton said with improvements to the water over the past decade, the council did not want residents to pay again to bring nearby areas up to standard.

Auckland’s Phil Goff says the supercity has already merged its water assets, contributes 93% of the assets’ value and is responsible for 90% of Entity A’s population – but would only have 28% of the representation.

He would prefer the government to provide a direct guarantee for the communes’ water debts, allowing them to borrow more.

Porirua Mayor Anita Baker broadly supports the reforms but also has reservations about council voice and says there will be ongoing staffing issues for the industry.

“Even though we funded it in a different way, we don’t have enough water technicians, we don’t train enough water engineers, so right now we can’t all the amount of water infrastructure done just with our Wellington Water group as it is,” explains Boulanger.

Mahuta says that throughout the four-year project, she always hoped to work in partnership with councils. She is backed by her second-in-command, Associate Minister for Local Government and MP for Wairarapa Kieran McAnulty.

Since then, he’s been visiting councils across the country — now over 40 — to engage and get their input. RNZ has repeatedly requested an interview on the subject over the past three weeks, but has declined until the tour wraps up next month.

He told parliament in August, however, that every council he had spoken to had told him the status quo was unsustainable.

However, they also face a series of other major reform programs – a replacement of the Resource Management Act and an overhaul of local government.

Many details of the Three Waters Plan are also unresolved: there are many calls to exclude stormwater systems at least until jurisdiction over things like culverts and rivers can be settled; and there are no details yet on economic regulation and pricing.

The chief executive of industry group Water NZ, Gillian Blythe, and chairwoman Helen Atkins, however, warn against delays, saying there is no good time for intergenerational change.

They referred the select committee to a document from the Environmental Commissioner in 2000 which stated that the then current model – 22 years ago – had reached the end of its lifespan and that further changes would only make necessary changes more difficult and costly.

Whether the government’s unpopular plan will achieve its goals remains to be seen.

in today Focus on politics podcast, RNZ Digital Political Reporter Russell Palmer enters the Three Waters Debate, assessing the situation ahead of local and general elections.


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