Three Waters: What and why?

By: Angie Warren-Clark

Angie Warren-Clark
Labour MP

 Three Waters addresses our drinking water, waste water and storm water. The reform is about ensuring New Zealanders have access to safe, clean drinking water for generations to come while maintaining infrastructure that remains fit for purpose as our populations change.

More than 34,000 New Zealanders are estimated to get sick from drinking water annually. There were 3385 reported overflows from sewerage networks in 2019/20, and 21.4 per cent of water supplies (serving more than 100 people) were not fully compliant with our drinking water standards.

All evidence suggests a legacy of broken pipes, outdated sewage plants and potential danger from contaminated drinking water for future generations if we do nothing.

The cost of service to Western Bay of Plenty residents without reform in 2051 would be $4050 per resident, per year. Tauranga City Council residents would be looking at $3060 by 2051 without reform. Both are looking at a much more manageable $1220 with the reform. Evidently, we need to look ahead and manage our waters proactively, because reactive management is a recipe for disaster.

We must manage our aging infrastructure and safeguard our health while keeping costs affordable, without leaving ourselves at the mercy of election cycles or council budgets.

Ownership, privatisation and public input

There seems to be some confusion about ‘ownership’ and privatisation under this reform. Rest assured, the four publicly-owned service entities will be collectively owned by councils on behalf of their communities.

Work is underway to establish a working group of local government, iwi and water industry experts to work through entity design elements. The group will also look at the governance and accountability arrangements of said entities, and provide an opportunity for public participation and consultation.

No single local government or mana whenua representative would have a veto right or ability to exert control over decisions. The model is collaborative, with iwi having an active say in holding the entities to account.

Public ownership of these water services is a bottom line and any future proposals for privatisation would require 75 per cent of votes in favour in a public referendum, making our communities the ultimate guardians of public ownership.

I understand that change can be difficult, and that the unknown conjures fear. This reform has been in the pipeline for years, and is the result of four years of focused research, modelling and analysis from a range of international and local experts.

If you are feeling uneasy about such a transformational reform, I recommend reading through the information available, where all the concerns I’ve had relayed to me are addressed.

We really do need our three waters managed safely, effectively and consistently - regardless of who our elected council is at the time.