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John MacDonald: I didn't buy 3 Waters. Now I've got non-buyer's remorse

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Wed, 7 Feb 2024, 1:11PM
Photo / Neil Reid
Photo / Neil Reid

John MacDonald: I didn't buy 3 Waters. Now I've got non-buyer's remorse

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Wed, 7 Feb 2024, 1:11PM

You know that line about the first offer being the best offer? I reckon we’re going to start thinking that way pretty soon about 3 Waters - Labour’s doomed effort to try and sort out the shambles stormwater, wastewater and drinking water has become in New Zealand.

There seems to be no shortage of disaster stories. Wellington’s been in the spotlight over the last few weeks and, today, it’s Christchurch’s turn. 

With the news that not only is about 38 million litres of water leaking out of the water pipes every day, we’re also going to have to have chlorine in the drinking water for years to come.

That 38 million litres is the equivalent of about 15 Olympic-size swimming pools. Or another way of thinking about it, is what the excess water charge would be from the council if you or I wasted that much water.

I thought it might be interesting to see how much we’d be pinged if we went through that amount of water.

The council charges $1.35 for every 1,000 litres of water over the daily limit. For the 38 million litres of water going down the drain every day in Christchurch, the excess water charge would be $51,000 dollars a day. Just under $360,000 a week or just over $18.5 million a year. 

The waste in Christchurch isn’t quite as bad as Wellington, where they’ve got 60 million litres going down the drain every day.

Either way, though, these councils that have been banging-on about how they’re the best outfits to run water infrastructure are dreaming. And they have hood-winked a lot of us into thinking the same. That’s how I’m feeling about it.

Because, like pretty much every other council around the country, all the councils here in Canterbury were up-in-arms about the government trying to take over their water infrastructure with its 3 Waters idea.

“Local ownership is the best kind of ownership” - that’s what they were saying.

And I’ll admit that, yes, I bought the argument these councils were putting up. And, for me, a lot of that was focused on the government offering pitiful amounts of money in exchange for water infrastructure assets.

I thought that what the previous government was offering the Christchurch council, for example, for its water infrastructure assets, was like someone offering an ‘as is-where is’ price for a house where all the earthquake repairs had been done.

Under 3 Waters, the former government would have paid Christchurch City Council $120 million for  $8 billion of water infrastructure assets. And I remember that was a very strong line that certain city councillors pushed. Sam MacDonald was one of them, who chairs the finance committee.

And he made very compelling arguments. And a lot of us got fired up about it. Which meant, of course, the other political parties joined in. With National, for example, saying before the election that it would repeal and replace 3 Waters.

It’s doing the repealing bit but not sure what the replacement is going to be. Although, it did say before the election that it would be letting councils hold on to their assets. Which people liked the sound of, and so goodbye 3 Waters. 

But I’m thinking today that we should’ve given 3 Waters more time before jumping on the anti bandwagon.

Which is why I’m saying that, maybe, the first offer was the best offer - that $120-million in exchange for $8-billion worth of water assets in Christchurch, for example, was actually a great offer and we should have grabbed it with both hands and let the government take over.

The idea was to set-up four water authorities, which would have been responsible for stormwater, wastewater and drinking water services right around the country. Most of the South Island would have been covered by one authority. 

And Labour was going on saying that these authorities would have had all sorts of local membership blah blah blah. But, in essence, the Government would have been in charge and, in hindsight, I don’t think that would have been such a bad thing. 

Because do you really, in your heart of hearts, think that local councils are up to the job? Really?

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