Overwhelming rates bills and crippling debt.
That's what a report has found Hawke's Bay will face if it doesn't take action to fix its drinking, waste and storm water.
A review has been released today on what a regional model for "three waters service" in the bay could look like.
But the councils now have to shelve it while they wait for the government's own regional reforms.
Where it started
Four years ago, a water bore in Havelock North became contaminated with sheep faeces. It hit the town with campylobacter poisoning.
Thousands were infected. Four people died and others were left with permanent disabilities.
Shirley Tobeck ran a kindergarten in the town and found her students and staff lying ill on the ground.
"They were just sick," she recalled.
"They were hardly moving, they were very very ill. Serious concerns for everyone.
"Those children in the centre are aged 0 to 5 and quite vulnerable to diseases like this that come through."
The disaster prompted Hawke's Bay councils to look at improving water delivery and ensure the costs did not run away on them.
About 18 months ago, the councils commissioned a review into the benefits of developing a region-wide solution.
The review consulted Māori on values such as te mauri o te wai (protecting the healthiness of the water) and mana motuhake (identity).
Today, the review by Morrison Low has been released and some of the findings startled mayors.
Some say it was a surprise to learn that meeting new standards would cost more than $605 million - double what had been forecasted.
"In our long term plans, we all had $300 million collectively but when we added up what it's going to cost the region to meet the new New Zealand standards it's going to be more than $600 million and that could be even greater with the spending challenges," Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazelhurst said.
Central Hawke's Bay Mayor Alex Walker said if nothing was done, annual costs would overwhelm her ratepayers.
"Based on how our current system works, small communities like mine could potentially end up paying $3000-$4000 a household just for their water services and that is something that I have to have front and centre in my mind in leading my part of Hawke's Bay, that is why we have to be having this conversation."
Under the proposed model, although Hastings, Central Hawke's Bay and Wairoa would be paying less, the data showed Napier ratepayers would be footing more of the bill.
Napier Mayor Kirsten Wise said that was not ideal.
"Knowing that the current modelling is showing Napier residents are potentially going to be subsidising the rest of Hawke's Bay, we're going to be really upfront with central government, put that on the table and say 'you need to resolve this if you want us to engage in this regional model'."
The local review recommended a council-controlled organisation - effectively a company run by the council - should manage the three waters.
But while the Hawke's Bay was doing a review, the government was also working on water reforms and now wants councils to sign up to its own regional proposal, following nationwide water regulator rules.
The councils have agreed to look at the government's plan, but Wairoa Mayor Craig Little said he needed assurances before signing up.
"A lot of people say to me you'd be silly not to jump at this deal, you're getting subsidised by from the rest of the region which is correct but we also need to ensure we retain our service levels, our staffing levels and our infrastructure."
And yet another sticking point was Napier's wish to look at being chlorine free.
Wise said she had been assured by the government Napier could get its own solution.
"When we had the prime minister here earlier this year to make the announcement around some of the funding, I actually had a one-on-one conversation with her then and said 'I need assurance to take back to my community that if this reform goes ahead, we can still move towards a chlorine-free network'.
"And at that time, she assured me that that's the case and I'll just be like a broken record, I'll just be saying every step of the way 'okay, just keep reassuring me'."
Hawke's Bay councils have acknowledged something needs to change to ensure water supplies are safe but the question of what reform will be adopted is still to be answered.