New Three Waters reports repeat water bill rises threat

3:14 pm on 4 June 2021

Wairarapa households could face massive rises in water rates as the nation's plumbing problems are addressed.

A contractor tries to tame a leak in Carterton.

A contractor tries to tame a leak in Carterton. Photo: Supplied / Carterton District Council

Estimates put household bills in 2051 at three times the current price and up to 13 times 2021 prices if reforms are not pushed through.

As reported by Local Democracy Reporting in March [ changes to water management in New Zealand] could lead to huge bills for homeowners and a shortage of workers with the key skills to make the changes.

The costs and complexity will see the likely removal of water services from local councils to a handful of water conglomerates.

Minister for Local Government Nanaia Mahuta this week said at least $120 billion would be needed to get drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure up to "acceptable public health and environmental standards".

It was "clear the affordability challenges facing our water infrastructure are too great for councils alone", Mahuta said.

"This research underscores the overall benefits of reform by reducing future costs on households, creating new jobs and contributing to regional economies and local industry - all of which build on our economic recovery [from Covid-19]."

The work would open up opportunities for more than 5000 jobs, but the sector was already suffering from a skills shortage, Mahuta said.

Water is flushed in Martinborough.

Water is flushed in Martinborough. Photo: Supplied / South Wairarapa District Council

In a 2020 ministerial briefing, the industry body Water New Zealand said the big gap in "capacity and competency in our workforce" was the sector's biggest challenge.

"This will require co-ordination and support from across the education and vocation sectors and in particular, the government."

Reports released by the Department of Internal Affairs by Australian management consultants Farrier Swier and New Zealand infrastructure experts Beca largely supported the reforms.

Their reports drew on initial findings by the Water Industry Commission for Scotland [WICS], the body which oversaw infrastructure spending in that country over the last two decades.

WICS' data suggested that water bills could treble by 2051 with reforms, but the reports said they could rise by a factor of 13 without them.

Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson said data had not yet been provided on a district-by-district basis, but the potential for the sale of assets into private hands was a worry.

"We haven't seen the data pertaining to here, but we do know as a sector that we have a huge amount of investment to make, right across the country," Patterson said.

"We will look with interest at the final piece from central government. One of the concerns has been about privatisation.

"This government said they wouldn't privatise, but our concerns is how do we protect that in future if another government may be in place. There's still a lot of concern and still a lot of detail to go through."

Carterton District Council will consult with locals before making any decisions, expected by the end of the year, "so we can consider the community's views before making any final decisions", a statement said.

South Wairarapa District Council's decision making on Three Waters remains tied to the Wellington Water conglomerate, made up of city and district councils in the capital region.

A report to the Parliamentary Health Committee is due next week.

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