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Kerre Woodham: If there's one thing we leave behind, it should be clean streams, pristine seas and first-world water services

Publish Date
Mon, 6 May 2024, 12:37pm
Photo / Unsplash
Photo / Unsplash

Kerre Woodham: If there's one thing we leave behind, it should be clean streams, pristine seas and first-world water services

Publish Date
Mon, 6 May 2024, 12:37pm

Last week, I think it must have been Wednesday or Thursday, I was harrumphing and muttering away like Waldorf and Statler from The Muppets. I was doing a little bit of that while I was reading about the latest sewage spill into a waterway in Wellington Harbour. I'm like, how in this day and age, can this still be? This is an outrage - and Helen tries to tune it out until she hears her name, and I said Helen, let's see if we can get Simeon Brown on... this is unacceptable. Sure. OK, fine.  

Not Three Waters under Nanaia Mahuta, she sold it badly and things wrong with, but if not Three Waters, then what? Get him on the line to explain himself ...back to Statler and Waldorf! Helen's yes, all right, knowing that once our host was on one, it's probably better to try and sort it out a few minutes later!  

She was back saying sorry Local Government Minister Simeon Brown can't talk, but he did say expect some news next week. And what do you know? Here's the news. I can see why he was busy over the weekend.  

Simeon Brown, Christopher Luxon and Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown announced a new water deal that will see government, council and Watercare work together to improve infrastructure and water delivery in the region. And it is hoped that this will be a template for other deals around the country. Obviously, they might have to be tweaked a bit when you're looking at the smaller regions with a smaller base with lower value water assets, but nonetheless it's been done. Deal done. Simeon Brown says Local Water Done Well is putting the responsibility for delivering the three waters that we require into the hands of the councils rather than overlaying its management and delivery with layers of bureaucracy and middle managers, will be the way to go. But councils won't be left entirely to their own devices. 

“It is ultimately local councils putting forward their solutions for a financially sustainable approach. Rather than government coming and saying have four entities or ten entities or whatever number of entities, which are co- governed and spend $1.2 billion on it - we're actually going to let local communities put forward their solutions. 

What's going to stop a water entity doing what many councils around the country have done and borrow, go nuts and find themselves up against a wall?   

Well, we are going to put in place economic regulation and so that will mean that they will be regulated in similar ways to how electricity distribution companies are regulated. They'll have to outline their price path, they outline their capital expenditure, outline their asset management plans, that's about sensible economic regulations to assure that consumers are not blocked off and then their assets aren't being gold plated, And as part of that, we're putting a crown monitor in place, straight away, for Watercare, to make sure that there is better oversight over their investment plans and make sure that Auckland is getting value for money.” 

That was Simeon Brown talking to Mike Hosking this morning. So, at least it's movement. We can't be paralyzed, sitting on our hands trying to work out the best possible way, while allowing raw sewage to be pumped into all of our waterways. And it's happening right around the country.  

Wellington is particularly bad in terms of its drinking water, in terms of its sewage, in terms of the age of its pipes, in terms of they put out one fire and another one erupts somewhere else. There are some councils who have done a brilliant job and have invested ratepayer money sensibly and have got their water assets well and truly up-to-date and future proofed. Others haven't even started.  

But, at least when you have a deal that's been announced, a deal that looks workable, it will see water rates rise by 7.2 percent rather than the 25.8 percent forecast. And that was what Watercare was warning, we're going to have to put it at that rate. We're now under this one going to be able to borrow more money to invest in infrastructure with the cost of borrowing spread over a longer period.  

Not all councils are created equal. Not all councils are the same, so they're going to have to tweak and adapt and modify this deal to make it suit themselves.  But at least we're moving.  

There are going to be challenges. They're going to be wondering what happens when one council has invested for years in upgrading its water assets, its ratepayers, have been responsible and said, yep, we understand that. Other councils have not, and how you work out who pays for what? But, at least there is movement.  

Mergers and coalitions and works programs are being announced and that's what we need to be doing. We cannot, we simply cannot, leave it to the next generation to fix up our polluted waterways, our droughts, our dead rivers, our toxic drinking water. We can't. If there's one thing we can leave behind us, it should be clean streams, pristine seas and first World water services. That should be our gift to the next generation and at least we're making a start right now. 


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