Three Waters reform not good for Whangārei

Published on 18 August 2021

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Creating super-entities to rule the waters across New Zealand may not be necessary where systems are working well, as in Whangārei.

Council has opted out of central government ‘s push for a super-entity covering Northland and Auckland.

“Some councils across New Zealand, including ours in the distant past, have had major problems with freshwater supply and have suffered beach and harbour closures because of sewage spills from aging infrastructure,” said Whangarei District Council Mayor Sheryl Mai.

“Whangārei has addressed many of these issues in recent years and our three waters systems are now among the best in the country. We want to see the strong local management that has generated this result continue into the future. Local ratepayers paid for these assets worth $700m to $1.2b and they own them. Ratepayers should continue to own and control the assets that they purchased over many years,” said Mayor Mai.

“We don't want to stand in the way of lifting the performance of water management in councils that are not there yet. There is good sense in having a new water regulator to set and enforce standards that our Council already meets. Maybe this should be established first and the situation reassessed in future?

“In time, combining systems and resources to generate economy of scale may deliver benefits for some councils. We don't believe Whangārei is one of those councils. Our local system performs outstandingly, has solid local governance, investment and management, and we don ‘t want it combined into a system that will see it become neglected, fail to deliver, and cost ratepayers more,” she said.

Drinking water

“Whangārei District ‘s drinking water network has reliably adapted, grown and responded to community expectations for decades. Only once in the past 10 years have we needed to impose water restrictions and we have even been able to help neighbouring councils during recent droughts. That ‘s a record very few councils can match.

We have funded and built, on time and within our $30m budget, a state-of-the-art water treatment plant that secures our drinking water supply for decades. We have also increased the size of pipes from the Hātea River, to help reserve dam water for use during drier times.”

Wastewater

“Since 2009 around $60m has been invested to improve our wastewater management. We no longer have the storm-related spills from our sewage system into our harbour that were routine in the early 2000s. Investment in new pumping stations and containment systems at Okara, Whareora and Tarewa ensures storm flows can be stored and treated before discharging to the main water treatment plant at Kioreroa Road.

The Kioreroa plant has been expanded and upgraded to ensure that all discharges from it into its wetlands have been treated.

We have also installed and managed smaller schemes around our District and we have a steady maintenance and expansion programme.

“Government is proposing that management of the three waters is transferred out of local government hands and into new entities. The northern most would cover Auckland, Whangārei, Kaipara and the Far North. We don’t want to see control revert to an unelected board of directors almost certainly based in Auckland.”


Whangārei District's public three waters system has a book value of $600m and replacement value of $1.2b.

These systems include dams, reservoirs, bores, intakes from rivers, pipes, pumping stations, treatment plants, telemetry systems, laboratories, drainage.  They also involve a network of contractors and staff to run, maintain, expand and develop with the communities changing needs.

They are funded by rates and sometimes some central government funding.  Managing them is funded through rates, and occasionally some central government grants.

The three waters managed by councils are:

  • drinking water
  • wastewater
  • stormwater
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