More information needed on proposed Three Waters Reform, Councillors resolve

Published: 29 September 2021

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Ashburton District Councillors have expressed reservations about the Government’s proposed Three Waters Reform and say they need a lot more information about how it would affect the district, and time to properly consult its residents, before deciding to opt in or out.

Government is proposing four new water service entities to take over the running of drinking water, stormwater, and wastewater services around the country. That job is currently done by 67 separate councils; Ashburton would be part of a largely South Island entity.

At an extraordinary Council meeting this morning, councillors resolved to note the reform proposal and go back to Government with 17 specific questions, including how the Ashburton community could have guaranteed influence over its three waters services in the future and how the community voice will be heard by such a large new organisation.

Councillors also noted the results of a public survey, in which 97 per cent of 504 responders said it was important for the community to be able to have their say on the matter.

Ashburton Mayor Neil Brown said Council could also not make such an important decision on three waters services without knowing how other pending Government reforms (like the Resource Management Act review and the Review on The Future for Local Government), and how future water regulation would play out.

“We still don’t know the details of how the new national water regulator Taumata Arowai will enforce drinking water standards, nor have we seen any detail of the proposed Economic Regulator - and so it is like putting the cart before the horse if we make a decision now to opt in or out without the full package of information.

“We, like all other councils, have been asked to give preliminary feedback on the reform, not make a decision. That decision will be hugely significant, and we cannot make it without consultation with our community.

“We believe we are well-placed in terms of our existing budgets and planned work programmes into the immediate future, and while the reforms are currently framed on a voluntary Council by Council choice basis, the Government may make the reforms mandatory. We understand Cabinet will be deciding about next steps in the next month or so.”

Mayor Brown said Councillors and council officers had spent a lot of time working through huge amounts of data and information to understand the effects of the reform for the Ashburton district but more specific information was needed.

Many questions remained around matters like Governance arrangements of the new Water Entities, future pricing policies, the inclusion of stormwater in the reform proposals, how Ashburton’s investment priorities will be guaranteed, regulation of private water supplies, and if stockwater supplies would have to meet drinking water standards, as well as how a South Island water service entity would contribute to civil defence emergency planning.

“We saw from our recent floods how important it was to have people here with local knowledge of our assets.

Mayor Brown thanked those who had responded to the online survey, and those who had emailed their concerns about the proposed reform directly to councillors.

"We know how people are feeling and that some other Councils have decided already to opt out. Now is the time to be calm and get answers to our questions," he added.

The local survey showed 64 per cent of respondents believed that continued improvement of health and environmental standards in three waters was important.

Some 27 per cent were prepared to pay more for higher health and environmental standards, with a further 21 per cent happy to do so if the improvements were localised, justified and/or decided upon by local representation.

The full Council discussion at the extraordinary meeting can be viewed on the Council's Facebook Page or YouTube Channel.

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