The pipes under our cities towns and homes deliver not just drinking water they also take away our waste. But local councils, especially those outside the main centres, say they can't afford the upkeep of the pipes they own and struggle to pay for necessary upgrades. As the Government contemplates how to improve drinking, waste and storm water, Local Government reporter Laura Dooney asked local councils what they'd like to see happen.
High on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu the district's mayor gazes up at the Turoa ski field, white and shiny in the sun, and dotted with skiers and snowboarders.
"I should've brought my skis," Don Cameron said.
While the number of tourists hitting the snow was expected to grow, Mr Cameron said more people were now visiting in summer - as the region's tourism boomed.
"Three years ago we thought that 750,000 was a big hairy goal for us, we're now reaching one million and within we think three years to five years we'll be over one and a half million, with big projects happening with the gondola at Whakapapa and the plans going ahead for Turoa as well," Mr Cameron said.
However that boom's putting pressure on the pipes underground that should be delivering safe drinking water, and dealing with wastewater and storm water without too much environmental damage to the district's 12,000 residents.
This year, as part of its long term plan process the council introduced district-wide funding for its water infrastructure, to help towns with tiny ratepayer bases pay to maintain the infrastucture crucial to human health.
Until then each town's scheme had paid for itself, the council's chief executive Clive Manley said
"So if they upgraded it just those people connected to that scheme paid for it. What that meant was when you do a very small scheme then it costs per person a lot more than a big scheme."
The new model "smoothed out" the costs.
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Bigger centres had very effective water schemes per population, and even though they were expensive to build when the price was divided by the number of people who used them, it was much cheaper, Mr Manley said.
The approach Ruapehu has taken is one the Government was considering to help pay for water infrastructure.
A review into the three waters - drinking, storm, and wastewater, was in its second stage, and was looking at how the management, delivery, funding and regulation of water could be improved.
It followed the contamination of Havelock North's drinking water in 2016, and calls from local councils for the Government to address the question of who's going to help them pay for water infrastructure they simply can't afford.
In the meantime drinking water's not as safe as it could be, nor our waterways as clean as they need to be.
The waters reform could see councils grouped together into large regional water providers, or a central water service.
"Councils are saying if waters get taken off us what else is there to do? So that's a legitimate concern of which we're having an in-tandem conversation with councils," Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta said.
"But when I think about why people put their hands up and get elected to council it's not because of the pipes under the ground quite frankly."
She said people on the council want to be part of making their communities a better place.
Ms Mahuta said the cost of wastewater in particular is a large concern - as no one's sure how high it could go, but it's likely to be more than drinking water - which could cost $547 million to bring up to standard.
"What we don't want is wastewater after storm events seeping into the harbours making our beaches unswimmable, our rivers and lakes unswimmable."
More regulation would improve drinking water quality across the whole network.
But not everyone was keen on the idea of sharing the costs.
Dave Scott is part of a group in Ohakune dedicated to making the town better, to help attract more tourists.
He didn't want a district wide payment for water.
"We voted against because we didn't believe we should have to pay for the next town's problems we have to pay for own.
"I'm a bit apprehensive about that because if the population drops again ... who's going to pay? It's going to be back on the ones who are left."
There were grave concerns taking waters from council could be a step towards privatisation. He believes the push for it is coming from entities that could benefit, Local Government New Zealand's president Dave Cull said.
"Follow the money on this, see who might benefit from an aggregated regime, and those agendas are being pushed, but they're being pushed on flimsy evidence, and prematurely."
But Mr Cull was confident the Government would see through any agendas.
Masterton's mayor Lyn Patterson said the discussions so far had been useful, but the idea of aggregation made her nervous.
"Because I want to understand how that would work and how that would benefit our ratepayers, our community here, where will the efficiencies be?
"Every community in New Zealand is different has slightly different issues so we just need to see where it lands, but we need to be part of the conversation."
Examples of how water could be grouped together on a regional level are in Auckland, and Wellington.
Wellington Water is a council controlled organisation that runs water services, but the councils in the region still own the assets.
In Auckland Watercare, also council controlled, runs water but also owns all the assets involved.
Having water managed for several councils managed by one body makes things better financially, and attracts better talent, as there's career progression beyond what can be found at a small council, Wellington Water's committee chair David Bassett said.
Ben Fountain, the stormwater chief advisor for Wellington Water, agreed there was a real benefit in having a broad group of people interested in the three waters infrastructure, sitting in the same place.
"The diversity around the table is going to really enhance decision making. We're not just delivering pipes now, we're delivering a whole service and that requires an integrated thinking you wouldn't get if you were just one or two people in an organisation."
When it comes to climate change and what it might mean to vulnerable storm and wastewater networks - no one knows what the impact could be, Waikato University's Professor Iain White said.
There were limits to what science could provide in terms of projections - so there was no indication of how bad things could get, and water infrastructure needed to upgraded so it could deal with the worst.
The discussion around how our water will managed was ongoing, and a big priority for the Government, Nanaia Mahuta said.
The second stage of the inquiry was expected to be reported back to Cabinet in October.
Back on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu Don Cameron said while his council could pay for what it needed, something would have to change for local councils to be able to afford to make sure their residents' water was safe, and swimming holes clean.