Govt forges ahead with water reform despite strident opposition

Local government, iwi and water industry representatives are set to get a say in the sweeping changes of how the country's drinking, storm and waste water is run. 

The Government saw instant push back from its Three Waters plan to split New Zealand's water supply into four geographically divided entities, taking control from councils.

Since then, it has had eight weeks of feedback from council, with Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta on Wednesday confirming the mandated drinking, waste and storm water reforms. 

"It is clear that without the establishment of these publicly-owned entities we will continue to see a frail network and contaminated water in many communities," Mahuta said. 

"To delay will only push the problem on, increase future household costs and put livelihoods at risk."

"New Zealanders simply cannot afford to follow the status quo facing costs of between $1900 and $9000 over the next 30 years, depending on location. Under reform proposals with four entities those figures significantly reduce to between $800 and $1640, saving each household thousands of dollars."

Local Government New Zealand said it was disappointing the Government was mandating the reforms, but that it was a "good sign" there would be refinement in the Three Waters plan. 

The Government said feedback from councils "helped identify areas for refinement of the new entities – such as in the area of representation and accountability".

Part of that was to create three groups made up of iwi and industry representatives and local government experts. The intention of the groups was to refine proposals, especially around oversight and accountability. 

"The group will work through the enhancements to entity design and look at the governance and accountability arrangements of the entities, as well as provide an opportunity for public participation and consultation," Mahuta said.  

By July 2024, the Government expects four new organisations will take over running the country's water services, with up to $2 billion funding for councils. New Zealand's water infrastructure was estimated to cost up to $180 billion to repair.

"It is a bottom line for the government that the entities remain in public ownership," Mahuta said. 

New Zealand's water currently sees 21 per cent of drinking water quality not achieve full compliance standards, and estimated 34,000 Kiwis getting sick from drinking water a year, and a quarter of the country's sewage plants currently on expired consents. 

Woman filling a glass of water. She is using the faucet in the kitchen sink. There is a plant out of focus in the foreground. Close up with copy space.

National’s Christopher Luxon called the Government's Three Waters proposal  a "tantamount to state-sanctioned theft of assets that ratepayers have paid for decades to own".

"It will create needless bureaucracy, strip away local control, and put distance between communities and decision-makers," he said.

"Water services will be controlled by a complex smorgasbord of unelected appointees and officials."