Government to bail out councils with $761m water services investment

Author
Newstalk ZB / Hawkes Bay Today ,
Publish Date
Thu, 9 Jul 2020, 3:00PM
Government announces $761m investment to assist local government upgrade water services. Photo / Warren Buckland
Government announces $761m investment to assist local government upgrade water services. Photo / Warren Buckland

Government to bail out councils with $761m water services investment

Author
Newstalk ZB / Hawkes Bay Today ,
Publish Date
Thu, 9 Jul 2020, 3:00PM

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a $761 million investment to help councils upgrade "run down" water services across the country.

In a politically charged piece of symbolism, Ardern and Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta chose the site of the water bore found to be the source of the fatal Havelock North campylobacter outbreak in 2016 to make the announcement on Wednesday.

Ardern said the country's public water infrastructure needed upgrading, and local government often didn't have the resources needed to fix it.

"This $761m investment will kick-start much needed work to bring our drinking, waste and storm water infrastructure up to scratch," she said.

"Nationally the estimated capital costs of upgrading drinking water treatment plants to meet health standards is between $309 and $574 million. The investment will help to cover some of these costs.

"Investing in water infrastructure is about investing in the health of New Zealanders."

Four years ago, four people died and about 5500 others got sick in the Havelock North campylobacter outbreak.

The Prime Minister said New Zealand's problems with drinking water aren't limited to Hawke's Bay.

"At least 34,000 New Zealanders become ill from drinking tap water every year and many communities around the country cannot drink their water without first boiling it," she said.

"Covid-19 has put additional pressures on local government. Councils that own and run water services need assistance to maintain or renew infrastructure.

"In particular rural councils with small ratings bases often can't afford the sort of investment need to upgrade their water infrastructure."

Hawke's Bay councils would receive in the region of $50m between them to assist with their water infrastructure upgrade work, she said.

The financial investment from the Government is contingent on local councils opting in to a wider water reform programme.

The cumulative effect of increasing capital costs, infrastructure maintenance and upgrades, enhanced standards and environmental challenges mean that the current operational and governance arrangements for water are not sustainable and consolidation is required.

Mahuta said there are "massive looming costs" across the Three Waters networks - wastewater, stormwater and drinking water.

"The current service delivery arrangements, particularly for the smaller rural and provincial councils, are not well-placed to meet these," she said.

"Today's announcement will lend the reform programme's initial stages very real impetus and councils will need to sign up to the wider reform agenda in order to access the Government's funding.

"We want to see new arrangements made that provide scale in the form of public multi-regional water entities – and take account of catchment-related and communities-of-interest considerations."

Mahuta also acknowledged the progress that Hawke's Bay's councils have made towards investigating shared service arrangements.

"This will put them, along with others who have developed similar initiatives, in an excellent position to consider the advantages of the reform programme," she added.

"New Zealanders in all our communities have every right to turn on the tap and drink the water in the knowledge that it is safe. We also want to be able to swim in our rivers and lakes and go to the beach and gather kai moana without getting sick."

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