Three Waters Reform
Central Government is reviewing the regulation and supply of drinking water, wastewater and stormwater (the three waters) for all New Zealand.
This is to give New Zealanders confidence that drinking water is safe to use, sources of drinking water are adequately protected, and wastewater and stormwater are managed in environmentally sustainable ways.
In July 2020, the Government launched the Three Waters Reform Programme – a three-year programme to reform local government three waters service delivery arrangements.
In July 2021, the Government shared more detail on what the outcome of the reform will be.
District Mayor Neil Volzke says, "It’s clear that the reform will have a huge impact on councils, both big and small. Water infrastructure makes up a large portion of the balance sheets of many councils. The Government’s position is that councils will have the choice to opt in or out of the reform proposals. That will be the key decision for us later this year.
We strongly believe our community should have a say about our participation in the reforms and are committed to advocate for this right. We are waiting for the Government to finalise proposals and consider consultation processes and timelines. When this information becomes available we will make sure that we enable you to engage in an informed way."
What’s being proposed?
Local councils currently own and operate the three waters infrastructure and provide the services for their districts. The Government believes this service delivery model needs to change.
They are proposing to establish four large publicly owned water service delivery entities.
These entities would own and manage the drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure for local communities, instead of councils.
Along with transferring the water assets to Entity B, all of Council’s associated water services debt and reserves would also be passed to Entity B.
In June 2021 the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) released a map showing the proposed boundaries of these entities.
Stratford District Council (SDC) is part of Entity B with 21 other councils in the wider Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki regions which would service approximately 800,000 people.
The government proposes that the new water entities will be operational from 1 July 2024, and it’s expected that councils will continue to deliver water services until then.
What does it mean for Stratford?
Change to the status quo
The Three Waters Reform Programme has the potential to significantly change the way critical water infrastructure and services are delivered in our district.
For example, Council would no longer be responsible for delivering drinking water supplies to households. It may also mean changes to how much our ratepayers pay for water and wastewater services, and who they pay for these services, in the future.
As part of the reform proposal the Government is promising to deliver a financial support package to all councils. This is to ensure that no council is left worse off after the reforms.
If the reforms go ahead, SDC would receive $10 million in financial support as part of this package.
This is on top of $2.34 million which SDC accessed as part of stage one in 2020. All councils agreed to this stage, which didn’t commit us to the reform programme. This money is being used to provide an additional water trunk main for the Stratford water supply, a project which started earlier this year.
What’s Council doing now?
The Government has asked us to examine the facts and figures in front of us, to determine the impact the reforms would on service delivery and our community.
Staff and elected members have been reviewing the large volume of information provided to determine what is being proposed and why.
At this stage Council is yet to form a collective view on the reforms, but is asking questions and raising concerns alongside fellow Entity B councils.
Some concerns and questions raised across Entity B include:
- Effectiveness of governance representation
- Loss of community influence
- Will ratepayers actually be better off financially?
- What will the impact be on the rest of Council services?
Council is expected to provide feedback to the Government by the end of September 2021.
There is clear commitment from all stakeholders for the need to spend more time working through some issues that are important to all of us. These are:
- Ensuring all communities have both a voice in the system and influence over local decisions. This means being sure the water entities understand and act on communities’ needs and wants.
- Effective representation on the new water entities’ oversight boards so that there is strong accountability to the communities they serve. This includes effective assurance that entities remain in public ownership and cannot be privatised in future.
- Making sure councils’ plans for growth are appropriately integrated with water services planning.
From October 2021, the Government will consider next steps, including the process and revised timing for consultation and decision-making.
We’ll continue to provide updates on the reform as more information is made available to us.