We are being softened up, I suspect, for another attempt to persuade us we need the "Three Waters" reform. On television last Sunday night, a 1News "exclusive" reported, "over a million Kiwis don't have safe drinking water."
The Ministry of Health's annual drinking water report had found just 78 per cent of the population received water that met all the regulations.
The item went on to explain the problems "ranged" from water suppliers' failure to have approved drinking water plans to a trace of e.coli in their water and boil water notices in place. That is quite a range.
I don't know how the lack of a plan makes water unsafe to drink. As for e.coli and boil water notices, the report made no mention of much more telling item on the same channel's Q and A programme six weeks ago.
That one reported the West Coast town of Reefton has been under a "precautionary" notice to boil or filter their drinking water ever since a trace of e.coli was found two years ago, though none has been detected since.
The residents, bless them, are ignoring it. Community board chairman John Bougen said: "I can assure you there's barely a local in town that hasn't been drinking from the tap over the last two years." They smell a rat in the regulations, not in the water, and they are right.
Until 2020 boil-water notices were in force only for as long as it took for a nasty to be flushed through and the water, which is constantly tested, to be clear again. But two years ago the notices became permanent under the infernal "precautionary principle" that the present Government applies in spades. (It's why we are still under a Covid red light.)
It was also two years ago that the Government began setting up a new apparatus for the regulation and management of water supplies, removing them from the control of local bodies that are answerable for their costs to voting ratepayers.
Last year councils put up enough resistance to stall the transfer of their assets to the proposed "Three Waters" entities, mega-regional bodies answerable to boards appointed by a panel appointed in turn by local bodies and iwi under another dubious principle, "co-governance".
A joint working party over the summer has agreed on some marginal improvements for councils but the whole point of the exercise is to put the services beyond democratic financial constraint and there is no sign yet the Government is ready to give way on that.
The real problem is that Three Waters is only part of the plan and unfortunately it is the second part. The first part was the creation of the new regulator which has already happened. The new regulator, named "Taumata Arawai" has taken over from the Ministry of Health and it – or its public relations consultants - probably seeded last Sunday's news item.
Had the reporter checked the ministry's final annual report she would have read that the reason some of the country's 485 water suppliers did not provide safety plans last year was that they are waiting to see what the new regulator requires.
No wonder. Taumata Arawai's foundling legislation, passed in November, runs to more than 200 clauses of requirements for plans, duties, registrations, notifications, templates, models, consultation obligations, authorisations, accreditations . . .
The costs of compliance, the reformers cheerfully admit, will be far beyond the level many local bodies can afford, or their voters will tolerate. Hence the need for four megabodies – a whole new tier of government.
The Three Waters entities will have the power not only to charge for water but to borrow on their own account. These loans, which will not be on the Government's books, will be secured by captive consumers' future water bills.
If you have ever wondered how government grows steadily bigger and more costly for the economy that has to carry it, this is the way it happens.
Public officials and industries and professions that stand to profit from its growth, meet in committees to discuss a rare problem – the Havelock North bore contamination in this instance - and conceive a new regulatory regime out of all proportion to what is needed or economic.
Government grows like fungus in places we cannot see or don't want to think about, such as underground pipes and sewers and drains. Nobody can see what condition buried infrastructure is in (though council engineers have a fair idea) so we are susceptible to the precautionary principle.
Water is a major element in the economy, excessive regulation could cripple us. We may stop the Three Waters plan but Taumata Arawai has taken root. We need to rip it out.