Some West Coasters facing four-fold rise in water rates

5:51 pm on 31 May 2021

A tiny West Coast community has reacted with horror to the news that residents will be paying nearly $1800 a year for their water in five years' time.

Tap water pouring into a glass.

The rise in charges relate to planned government standards for drinking water, the Buller mayor says. Photo: AFP

Inangahua Junction, north of Reefton, has 32 households hooked up to a bore water system first put in by the Ministry of Works in the 1960s.

They currently pay about $500 each a year for the service.

In Buller District Council's draft long-term plan however, those charges are set to rise to $1200 by 2024, $1800 the following year and $2000 per household, by year 10 of the plan in 2030.

Former councillor Graeme Neylon told the Inangahua Community Board recently, the increases were inexplicable - and unaffordable.

"These charges are horrendous, and there's no explanation given for them in the plan. Most people in Inangahua Junction are pensioners; they're on low fixed incomes and they simply have no ability to pay these sorts of fees."

The water supply was a very simple no-frills setup, Neylon said.

"MOW basically sank a bore in Warren Inwood's paddock when they had their camp there after the Inangahua earthquake in 1968, and then as they moved out and people moved in and bought the houses they set up a community water board to run it."

The board used to meet annually and set fees for the coming year, mainly to cover power costs for the pump, but it ran into trouble when some people failed to pay their bills, Neylon said.

"I was approached as a councillor and asked if the council could take over the administration on behalf of the board, to make sure people paid. But at some point the council seems to have taken ownership - no one knows quite how that happened."

When government subsidies were available a few years ago, the council had secured a grant to install two hillside tanks, create a gravity feed and reduce power costs, Neylon said.

"We haven't been able to get answers about what sort of work they might be planning that would explain the increases, it's quite frustrating and people are worried."

Increases linked to new drinking water standards

Buller Mayor Jamie Cleine said the projected increases would relate to the drinking water standards the government is enforcing for public water supplies.

He was not aware of the exact details, but the council or the new regional water bodies set to replace them would have to upgrade systems like Inangahua Junction's and ensure they were safe.

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Jamie Cleine Photo: Supplied

The council had been granted $4.5 million by the government to bring its existing systems up to standard before the reforms took effect, but that money was tagged for upgrading water supplies in Westport, Punakaiki and Reefton, the mayor said.

"There were strict criteria we had to meet would have cost about $16 million to upgrade every water supply in the district and that's what we applied for, but we only got a quarter of what we needed."

The cost increases to the Inangahua Junction water supply would likely involve chlorination and other compliance costs, Cleine said.

Neylon said that did not make sense when other small water supplies in the district were not being lumbered with the same sort of crippling increases.

"If you look at south Granity for instance, their charges are about $250 and they stay the same for the whole 10 years of the plan."

Cleine said that would be because the council did not own the south Granity supply, but merely administered it.

Council chief executive Sharon Mason said the ownership question was one the council was investigating, after a meeting with Inangahua Junction residents last month.

"We believe the council owns that water supply, but there is some confusion over what happened when, and what was understood at the time, so we are researching our records to clarify things for people."

The council planned to hold a follow-up meeting with residents when it had some answers in the next week or so, she said.

Long-term locals Tubby and Shirley Palmer were hoping there had been a mistake in the council's reckoning.

"We just haven't got that sort of money - none of us have - we're the only married couple here, the rest are all single people, mostly pensioners."

Palmer's husband had installed the pipes for the water supply more than 50 years ago after the Inangahua earthquake in 1968, and the council had never replaced them, she said.

"We believe we own the system and how the council arrived at these charges, like $2000, I don't know - but people here can't pay that. We just can't afford it."

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