The issue being debated at length, on a number of different levels in our district, our region and across the country is water.
The Central Hawke's Bay District Council has just released its draft Long Term Plan for consultation. And at the centre of that is water.
I was elected to bring fresh eyes to the council table and to lead a new transparent approach. I am honouring that by supporting the release of a draft budget for consultation that spells out and deals with the challenges we have identified – head-on.
I am proud to say that our council is aiming to take a pro-active stance to the plight of ageing water infrastructure that is plaguing all councils and communities. The importance of water was heard loud and clear during Project Thrive.
A stance that saw us bring #thebigwaterstory out to the public in November last year – outlining the infrastructure needs we have and how it may be approached. These are the issues we need to invest in today to ensure that our children and grandchildren are not dealing with even bigger problems left by us.
The sad truth is that adequate renewal and investment in core infrastructure for most smaller councils, like CHB, has never been possible due to affordability constraints. And our small district is facing the consequences of that.
CHBDC has a drinking water network that is in better condition than many around the country. But we have water lines through significant residential areas that aren't big enough. We have areas where fire appliances don't bother using the town water hydrants as there's not enough pressure.
We have sections of pipework that are decades old. We have parts of the community – particularly in our villages - that buy water rather than put up with the taste or discolouration of the water coming out of their taps. We still have significant numbers of properties around our town boundaries that want to connect to town water but can't.
We have our largest residential, business and industrial areas in Waipukurau at serious risk as there is only ONE source and connection into our largest town. Half a day's water only.
None of this is good enough. And we can't keep our heads in the sand. For our district to thrive, and even to survive, we have to take this seriously.
We have unprecedented new building activity happening in our district at the moment – and economic projections that expand that growth over the next 10 years by as many as 535 households.
We are an attractive and affordable place to live, and retirement rates are driving people into, and closer to, our towns. We already have sections of our urban networks that can't cope with new connections. And with our population profile ageing, we need to be prepared to supply no-hassle services to larger numbers of elderly people in the near future and keep them close to their families.
The good news is that these new households bring new rating units which spread the financial burden of our infrastructure and services a bit wider but it still puts the responsibility on us to kick-start the work.
The majority of our drinking water networks are part of the Tukituki Catchment. With Plan Change 6 becoming operational, the use of water, the quantity and the quality of water in our rivers, and how we use it – residentially and agriculturally – is all intertwined.
Every litre taken from below ground – whether to a town network, a rural house or an irrigator – all contributes to the levels of water in our rivers. Every gram of nutrient put into the river – whether from an urban wastewater network, a rural septic tank or agricultural run-off – all contributes to the quality of water in our rivers. We collectively have a responsibility to address this.
The Havelock North Water Inquiry is driving considerable change of approach when it comes to drinking water treatment, supply and regulation – being driven strongly by the Ministry of Health and our new government. CHB is currently well-positioned in this area but there is more work to come. We don't want to put the health and wellbeing of our communities at risk by not taking these changes seriously.
The Long Term Plan put together by the CHB District Council proposes over $30m of capital investment in our three-water networks over the next 10 years. We don't have all the answers yet when it comes to our wastewater treatment but this makes a start.
It will put pressure on the targeted rates that connected ratepayers contribute to water and wastewater. It will put pressure on ratepayers across the whole district to contribute.
But this is not something that your councillors have taken lightly. We are pursuing other funding options and searching for innovative approaches to try to alleviate that pressure – but it always comes back to us taking the responsibility of kick-starting the work.
Investing in our future. Our consultation period is a crucial time for us to gauge whether our community is willing to invest with us and we need your thoughts and perspectives to make sure we make the best decisions we can.
Alex Walker is Mayor of Central Hawke's Bay. Views expressed here are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org