A storm is brewing across the land as councils and their residents recover from the shock Three Waters announcement this week.
Gone is the option to op-in or out the Government's plan to fix water issues.
Instead the Labour Government intends to force the issue, saying that legislation will be in place by the end of the year.
It will be in Parliament early next year, but despite the big rush Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta promised "full public consultation".
Citing the dire state of three waters assets for many councils and the lack of access to safe drinking water around the country, the proposed model is touted as the perfect solution to all woes.
Fixing that ailing infrastructure in some parts of the country will be expensive, estimates throw around numbers like $120-$180 billion being needed to fix all of it in the next 30 years. This is far beyond the capability of ratepayers or even taxpayers, she said.
The proposed model where four new entities control all assets is chosen because it means there is an infinite capacity to borrow money to fix it, without it costing ratepayers or taxpayers, while claiming cheaper services for residents and ratepayers.
Kāpiti Coast Mayor K Gurunathan is disappointed in what he calls the Government's shotgun decision to push ahead with an "all in" approach to the Three Waters reform despite numerous councils providing robust feedback on the shortfalls of the proposed four water service entity model.
"While we are not opposed to change, we would have liked to have been afforded the opportunity to work more constructively with the Government to achieve good outcomes for our community and NZ Inc.
"Clearly the quiet voice–of–reason approach we've taken to date has not served us well. The Government has totally ignored our feedback and reneged on its promise to engage meaningfully with the sector and our community.
"We can only hope that the working group that is to be established with the local government sector, iwi and water industry experts will address many of the issues raised by councils about representation and accountability.
"Kāpiti has a good track record of delivering quality drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater outcomes for our community and we want to ensure that our community's needs continue to be prioritised and met in the face of climate change and unprecedented growth.
"We are very concerned that Kāpiti ratepayers will now be forced to prop up those that have failed to act in the best interests of their community," says Mayor Gurunathan.
"I stand by my earlier comments that this could end in a turd degree burn for ratepayers, bigger isn't always better and lumping problems together doesn't automatically fix them.
"It's clear from the timing of this announcement that the Government had already made up its mind before it invited councils around Aotearoa to provide feedback on the proposed model," he said.
"In the absence of any authentic grassroots community consultation, we can only hope that the Government will act in good faith and respond appropriately to community feedback received through the Select Committee process."
The mayor said Kāpiti would continue to advocate for good three water outcomes on behalf of the Kāpiti Coast community and welcomed further discussion with the sector on how the proposed change would be implemented.
While many councils are devastated at this development, Water New Zealand, however, is jubilant.
"The establishment of four professional entities to manage three waters will unlock many of the barriers that have led to the serious infrastructure deficit across much of the country."
Its chief executive, Gillian Blythe, said the industry faces back challenges on the back of ageing and poor performing infrastructure and poor delivery is part of the country.
"We need to find an affordable, efficient and equitable way to fix the backlog of underinvestment in infrastructure, improve service delivery and meet future challenges.
"The new regionally based entities will be able to re-invest, use resources such as staff, and other expertise more efficiently as well as adopt new technologies and better environmental outcomes.
"They will not have the competing demands that councils have for resources.
"Currently 25 per cent of our wastewater treatment plants are operating on expired consents while Ministry of Health data shows that one in five New Zealanders has been supplied with drinking water that is not guaranteed to be safe from bacteria contamination.
"Wherever we live in Aotearoa New Zealand, we all want to be able to turn on the tap and have safe drinking water. We also want our rivers, lakes and beaches to be safe to swim in."
She said it was also important that the reforms are not put at risk due to the shortage of skilled workers.
"We are already facing a skills shortage. That's why Water New Zealand has been working with our partners and members to help upskill the current workforce and attract more young professionals into the sector," Blythe said.
"It is important to ensure ongoing public and community participation in the next phase of the reform process to help ensure a successful transition."
Local Government New Zealand expressed dismay at the decision. LGNZ president Stuart Crosby agreed with the need to address the systemic issues in the current three waters system and said local government's feedback on the proposal clearly supported the need to find better ways of delivering drinking, waste, and stormwater in New Zealand.
However, councils were equally clear that the proposed governance structure of the reform model would dilute accountability to communities, did not allow for local voice, and wasn't well connected to the planning system, he said in a statement this week.
"The sector has said loud and clear that the model needs significant work.
"What the decision does do is give councils and communities some certainty about the path of reform ahead. But the choice is now out of councils' hands.
"While the announcement stings for councils who have been good stewards of their infrastructure, ultimately the nation-wide affordability challenge in the water space needed to be answered."
Horowhenua Mayor Bernie Wanden said in an official statement:
"There are challenges for many councils in their ability to invest and deliver the infrastructure required to ensure that level of service is maintained into the future for our communities.
"This applies even more so to growth districts like ourselves. We are currently in a good space here, because we have invested well in three waters infrastructure over the years.
"We have led the way in ensuring our wastewater discharges are to land and not to water.
"The reality, though, is that with our projected population growth there will be growing pains — we will need to manage that growth and invest appropriately.
"Are we in a position to take on more debt, and what impact will it have on our rates? Will you as a ratepayer be better off in the long term if the proposal did work?
"Most councils agree that there is a need for change in general, but many of us do not believe the government has convincingly made the case for its proposed solution."