The future of Whangārei's $3.5 billion ratepayer-funded infrastructure assets is under the spotlight - as part of controversial nationwide water sector reforms.
Six generations of Whangārei District Council (WDC) ratepayers have paid towards $3.5b of infrastructure for drinking water, wastewater, stormwater, roading, libraries and more since the late 1870s.
But this could now be separated off from the council's existing operations into a new regional infrastructure management entity.
WDC is looking at where-to-from-here, amid sweeping Government restructuring of the country's drinking water, wastewater and stormwater management, known as three waters reform.
Whangārei mayor Sheryl Mai said Northland's local government was facing huge change as a result of three waters reform.
"We are steering down the barrel of change," she told a WDC briefing meeting on the subject on Wednesday.
A Northland regional infrastructure entity would helm management of WDC, Far North District Council (FNDC) and Kaipara District Council (KDC) assets, split off from each council's current operations.
Rob Forlong, WDC chief executive said setting up a Northland regional infrastructure management entity would potentially provide the economies of scale being sought by the Government in its three waters reform.
The council's $1,098b three waters infrastructure – 32 per cent of its total $3.494b infrastructure assets - could alternately be put into a regional entity for managing just drinking water, wastewater and stormwater in Tai Tokerau.
But Forlong said this brought the possibility of an entity that wouldn't be seen by the Government as big enough to bring required economies of scale.
WDC has written to Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta seeking assurances around the ongoing public ownership of the assets transferred into a joint Northland three waters reform entity.
Forlong said that public ownership assurance had been made. But there was nothing to stop a future Government, further down the track, then privatising these entities.
Northland's three district councils are currently Tai Tokerau's major local providers of drinking water, wastewater and stormwater for 180,000 people. KDC provides three waters infrastructure for just 24,000 people, FNDC 65,000 and WDC 91,000.
These three smaller-scale council population numbers could grow to a single entity serving 2.63 million people as part of Government three waters reform plans.
This top-of-the-North Island entity would combine up to 20 councils three waters infrastructure, dramatically contrasting with Northland's status quo.
The Government's widely seen to be pushing for a giant top-of-the-North-Island three waters inter-regional entity which would serve 1.84 million people and combine the sector's assets from at least Northland's three district councils and Auckland Council.
Another Government scenario includes an even bigger top-of-the-North Island single entity serving 2.63 million people. This combines up to 20 councils' water provision across Northland, Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty and stretches almost 700km from Cape Reinga to Taupō.
Northland's district councils don't want to combine with Auckland Council's eight-year-old council controlled organisation (CCO) Watercare. Their preference is instead for a Northland-based entity.
Forlong said the Government could legislate to make the at-least-Auckland-north three waters entity happen.
Northland work's now being done towards which restructuring scenario works best for the region.
One Northland scenario is a combined FNDC/KDC/WDC entity combining just three waters infrastructure. Another also includes three waters and infrastructure assets including roading.
The four-council top-of-the-north three waters entity that includes Auckland Council will also be looked into.
Connecting with Auckland could in turn result in Northland becoming part of an entity stretching beyond New Zealand's biggest city into at least Waikato.
Auckland Council is seen in favour of combining with at least Waikato. This is because Auckland Council is seriously short on adequate water supply infrastructure and wanting
to up its use of Waikato River drinking water for its 1.7 million residents.