Three Waters Reform
Central Government is reviewing the regulation and supply of drinking water, wastewater and stormwater (the three waters) in New Zealand.
What is the reform about?
Central Government is currently reviewing how drinking water, wastewater and stormwater (the three waters) services are regulated, managed and delivered in New Zealand.
The review began in 2017, following the Havelock North water contamination incident, and has already delivered new legislation and the creation of Taumata Arowai, a new Water Services Regulator,, to oversee and enforce a new drinking water regulatory framework, with additional oversight of wastewater and stormwater networks.
The majority of three waters assets and services in New Zealand are owned and operated by local councils. Communities have paid for these assets and services over many years mainly through rates, fees, and charges.
Both central and local government have also identified issues with the lack of three waters infrastructure investment, in parts of the country, which has led to large backlogs of poor condition assets. Issues around affordability for ratepayers, as well as the need for additional investment to meet improvements in freshwater outcomes and resilience to climate change have also been considered.
The reform, as it currently stands, seeks to shift these three waters assets and operations, from 67 councils to four regional entities. Opotiki District falls into entity B together with 22 councils comprising of approximately 800,000 people.
Our response to Government on impacts to Council and our community
Following the July announcement from Government, Council was given eight weeks to take a closer look at the reform proposals and carefully consider the impact on Ōpōtiki District Council and our community.
Council carefully considered the potential impact of the reform, identifying areas of concern and raising additional questions or concerns with relevant government departments. We have prepared a formal response on the reform and it has been sent to the Government by the deadline of 1 October.
Thank you to everyone who has provided their thoughts and feedback on the Three Waters Reform. Whether you spoke to a councillor, commented on Facebook or provided written or online feedback to Council directly, it has all helped us draft our reply to Minister Mahuta yesterday.
We don’t know what the next steps may look like, but we are pleased that the Ōpōtiki community chose to have (as much as has been possible in this timeframe) their voice heard.
As you may remember – this isn’t a council-led process, and it has not been a formal consultation. It was simply a very quick opportunity for feedback to prepare a response. We hope to still be able to conduct a formal consultation process should the next steps from central government allow.
Council held a workshop on Monday (27 September 2021) to talk through all this material to help shape our letter, which you can now read here: Letter to Minister Mahuta - DIA and LGNZ - Three Waters Reform - 28 September 2021
In short, our letter raises concerns and calls for a formal process through which our communities can have their say on such a big issue. Our incredible iwi partners stood alongside us and joined their names to our letter to show central government that we have a united voice on many of these issues and it is a matter that impacts all of us.
There is still a lot of change and discussion happening and we are still unsure what the next steps may look like. We will make sure you stay informed as we know more through this process.
23 November 2022
Three Waters legislation takes next step forward - Central government’s three waters legislation took the next step forward earlier this month with the Select Committee review of the Water Services Entities Bill completed and recommendations published.
3 November 2022
Ōpōtiki Mayor joins calls to take the politics out of three water management - Earlier this week, the Mayors of New Zealand’s two biggest cities, Auckland and Christchurch, called for a new way forward for three waters management in Aotearoa.
Ōpōtiki Mayor, David Moore, said that the announcement showed that a way could be found that was above politics and took a consensus and inclusive approach to water management.
1 September 2022
Eastern Bay Mayors present to select committee on Three Waters - Ōpōtiki Mayor, Lyn Riesterer, joined mayors from around Aotearoa to present to the Finance and Expenditure committee.
26 July 2022
Council and local iwi voice opposition to Three Waters’ bill - media release including full copy of submission on Water Services Entity bill.
20 April 2022
16 December 2021
Mayor Lyn Riesterer joins with 23 other councils as campaign to take three waters concerns to parliament launches through Communities 4 Local Democracy - the voice of more than a million New Zealanders.
16 November 2021 - 3 Waters MoU between Partner Councils
2021-11-16 - 3 Waters MoU between Partner Councils PDF 94KB - Tabled Item to 16 November 2021 Ordinary Council Meeting Agenda.
5 October 2021 - Council receives response to original '50 questions' letter
Two hours after sending through our feedback above to government - and 15 mins before the feedback period closed - Council received a response to our letter of 17 August 2021. Our reply to the response is included here: Further letter to Minister Mahuta - 5 October 2021 PDF 127KB
2 September 2021 - Three Waters Reform update for Ōpōtiki
Media Release - Is the Scottish Three Waters model right for Ōpōtiki?
18 August 2021 - Three Waters Reform update for Ōpōtiki
10 August 2021 - Three Waters Reform update for Ōpōtiki
As most of you will know, Central Government is reviewing the regulation and supply of drinking water, wastewater and stormwater (the three waters) in New Zealand. You can read more about this process above.
In brief, the reform currently seeks to move three waters assets and operations from 67 councils to four larger entities. Ōpōtiki District falls into Entity B with 21 other councils (around 800,000 people).
This will have a significant impact on the Ōpōtiki District. We have tens of millions of dollars in our three waters assets that have been paid for by the community over many years. Our most recent Long Term Plan sets aside more than $50m over the next ten years for further improvements. Our historical investment and this future investment means we are well placed for Ōpōtiki’s future.
We want to make sure we understand the government’s ‘better off / no worse off’ funding and the financial modelling that sits behind the figures. We have commissioned an independent review and raised several additional questions with the Department of Internal Affairs.
When we have the answers to these questions and independent figures, we will have clear information to share with our communities before any decision can be made.
We entered this conversation in good faith and we will continue to discuss our questions and concerns with central government and other councils around the country. We were told that the process would be voluntary and we are concerned by any suggestions that the move would be made mandatory without an opportunity for community input.
We will continue to make sure that the Ōpōtiki community voice is heard and when we have clearer information, we will provide as many opportunities as possible for feedback.
We looked carefully into the information provided and commissioned an independent review, completed a ‘balanced scorecard’ to help us make a considered assessment.
In addition, we wanted to include community input in our response to government. While the government has indicated that we are not required to formally ‘consult’, our own policies (particularly the Significance and Engagement Policy) means we needed community feedback to prepare the clearest possible response to Government.
In brief, we agreed that there is a need for some national-level reform to ensure that across the country we have the delivery mechanism and investment in place to ensure safe, consistent and healthy waters. However, the Ōpōtiki community has invested heavily over many generations in our water infrastructure and we are in a generally good place for the future. You can read more on this below.
We previously identified a number of issues that we raised with central Government on the community’s behalf. You can read the full letter with a list of 50 questions for Minister Mahuta but in brief these focused on:
- What ‘ownership’ of assets looks like in practice in the new entities
- How the future entity will take account of the Ōpōtiki communities’ priorities in the proposed structure and how local communities can influence decision-making of those organisations
- Whether and to what extent the government has engaged with iwi (specific to Ōpōtiki) and implications for the reform proposals if iwi do not wish to engage or take different approaches across the country
- Protections from any future privatisation
- Ways to ensure that local contractors still get work locally (and contracts aren’t just awarded to larger companies that can cover the full Entity B region)
- Ways in which the Scottish model may not be the most appropriate model eg Scotland has a 95% connection rate which may be unachievable when in Ōpōtiki density is around 3.2 people per square km
- The details behind the modelling that suggests 45% efficiency savings
- The details behind the modelling behind the proposed $307million ‘enhancement’ of three water infrastructure for Ōpōtiki (given the full replacement value is currently $86million)
- Whether any consideration was given to inefficiencies of splitting stormwater from other services particularly roading
- Implications for Council’s ability to borrow, keeping skilled employees (particularly for other engineering works not related to three waters), sustainability of other services
- What the transition would look like in practice
- Wider concerns around losses of local decision making in local government.
We are yet to receive a response to that letter.
Ōpōtiki District Council owns and operates three waters assets to serve the local community. The assets have been paid for by the community over many years, mainly through rates, fees, and charges.
The value of our Three Waters Assets, as at 30 June 2021, is approximately $56.2 million.
Approximately $52.5 million has been allocated in the Ōpōtiki District Council 2021-2031 Long-Term Plan for three waters and this investment will improve drinking water safety, wastewater treatment, and reduce flood risks in our District.
Because of this investment, and historical investment, we are well positioned for the future.
The Three Waters reform programme has the potential to significantly change the way critical water infrastructure and services are delivered in our District.
As part of our due diligence Council commissioned an independent review of the financial modelling that has been undertaken by the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA). Through this process many questions have risen about the case for change. We have sought answers to these questions from DIA and are awaiting a reply.
- More information on the Government reform
- You can read the briefing paper that informed a councillor workshop on the proposal (early review of the financial model)
- ODC Letter to Minister Mahuta (outlines council questions on the information and assumptions sitting behind government’s figures)
- The DIA and LGNZ overviews of the programme
- Some interesting media coverage including what other councils around New Zealand think of this reform and thorough a RNZ podcast.