I don't like to admit it, but whenever there's significant flooding anywhere in the country I always think "thank God that's not our district".
Flooding means dollars, sometimes hundreds of thousands, inevitably needed to repair the damage done. But this weekend I felt doubly guilty because I was one of about 700 people leaving Blenheim on Friday and Saturday as the deluge started in the Marlborough district and on the West Coast.
We had just finished attending the two-day Local Government New Zealand conference. At the opening ceremony, Marlborough District Mayor John Leggett welcomed us to Blenheim and the district, and spoke with pride of the diversity of the region.
The large screen on stage showed beautiful scenes of the sounds, vineyards and sweeping coastal and rural areas. I marvelled at this lovely part of our country and decided to plan another visit purely for the purpose of rest and recreation.
Since the weekend I have seen Mayor Leggett on TV explaining the extent of the flooding and what the population is now having to cope with. I hope his district will recover and bounce back quickly.
As a councillor you know adverse natural events will occur from time to time and, although councils can plan for such events, you always think "this event is going to cost us mega- dollars".
On Saturday afternoon in the taxi from Wellington Airport into the city, I saw many flooded streets. Looking at the unruly rushing water I instantly thought "their stormwater system isn't coping".
Well it wouldn't with the amount of water that was bucketing down. A hefty repair bill for Wellington City too.
The irony is the conference I had just attended was essentially all about water.
The Three Waters, it dominated discussions on and off the stage. The Three Waters are drinking water, stormwater, and wastewater. The Government is reviewing how to improve their regulation and supply.
It is proposing to transfer these services from local authorities to four new regional water service entities. Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta is aware of the reaction from local authorities to the proposal.
Some mayors are openly challenging the move, others are prepared to wait and listen and make their views known after the eight weeks of consultation and feedback; while others we heard, have yet to come to grips with what is being proposed.
I suspect Minister Mahuta knows this will not be an easy sell because she not only spoke at the conference, but stayed for its duration. She made herself available to speak to anyone who wanted more information about what the Government reforms will entail.
Most Three Water assets and services are owned and delivered by local councils and it was clear councils will not give these up willingly. Ratepayer assets must remain ratepayer owned. The minister gave an assurance this would not change, but the majority were not convinced, at this stage anyway, that would be the case.
I was impressed with the minister. She is easy to listen to. I would say one of the best speakers in this government. She is on top of her portfolio and speaks in a clear, concise manner.
She keeps it simple, the first rule of communication, and doesn't speak down to her audience.
She emphasised that New Zealand's prosperity is reliant on improving water supply arrangements for our health, safety and the environment.
The Prime Minister put in an appearance at the conference too, and announced a $2.5 billion support package for councils to invest in their communities and support the reforms. The overriding concern that I heard time and again was that responsiveness and accountability to local ratepayers, through their elected members, would be removed.
Both Minister Mahuta and the Prime Minister would have heard that feedback loud and clear.
Māori I have spoken with remain highly distrustful of any move that will see a large new entity determining how their water assets will be managed. Many have only just recently been returned through Treaty of Waitangi settlements.
Definitely not for them without their involvement at all levels.
- Merepeka Raukawa-Tait is chairwoman of the Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency, a Lakes District Health Board member and Rotorua district councillor.