By any standards, New Zealand has had an extraordinary year – and there's still 22 days of it to go.
True, it's been hard at times. Auckland's long lockdown, and the restraints imposed in other regions, have had a heavy impact on social and economic life – the consequences of which will be with us for some time.
While working from home for 100+ days had the potential to drain our reservoirs of optimism, there are solid reasons to stay positive as we look forward to 2022.
Auckland will enter the new year more resilient, adaptable, and future-focused than ever before. In my seven months at Watercare, I've seen the team tackle the challenges of a severe drought head-on – delivering large-scale supply projects in record time – while also delivering a fully-funded plan that will serve the people of our city to 2041.
I've seen them make a concerted effort to enhance relationships with our owner, Auckland Council, and to engage with customers and mana whenua about our city's water future.
They've developed a thorough Māori Outcomes Plan with measurable and tangible deliverables – not least, a target to award 5 per cent of annual contract expenditure to Māori businesses, either directly through Watercare or indirectly through our partner organisations, by 2025. This programme will actively advance Māori business, identity, and culture.
Yes, Delta has been a gamechanger in terms of how we run our business, but it hasn't been a showstopper. And we are stronger for it.
Watercare's Asset Management Plan (AMP), published in July, describes how the company is investing $2.5 million every single day over the next 20 years in securing our community's water future. That's a period that will encompass multiple elections, significant population growth, the increasing impact of climate change – and hopefully a few Rugby World Cup wins too.
While the plan's not long published, the written intention to roll out smart meters to residential customers has already taken flight. By this time next year, we expect to have more than 40,000 residential customers enjoying the benefits of smart meter data, with more planned for following years.
With the smart meter roll-out will come a Watercare app, which will allow our customers to keep a closer eye on their water use, detect leaks earlier, and engage with us much easier.
Our AMP demonstrates our commitment to growth but also points to massive opportunities for New Zealand which even a pandemic cannot impede; opportunities that will require sharp focus from all of us – policymakers, companies, and citizens alike.
The sheer scale of infrastructure delivery required across NZ Inc presents us with the opportunity to think differently about how we approach and resource those projects. It offers us the challenge of shifting our focus from filling labour and skills gaps through immigration to designing and delivering new ways of home-growing those skills.
I'm optimistic about the role of the corporate sector in building the capacity required by leveraging what Kiwis do best – innovating, improvising, and experimenting.
I have witnessed some of that ingenuity on a localised scale with our new water treatment plant at Tuakau. The project was delivered in record time because our team refused to be
confined to the old "rules" of infrastructure delivery.
They didn't just think out of the box to deliver a four-year project in 11 months, they created completely new boxes.
I know that my thinking is shared by many of my peers, policymakers, and public agencies.
In fact, recent reports by the Productivity Commission and the Infrastructure Commission offer thoughtful perspectives on these issues, making it clear that other entities – not just central government – have a role to play in addressing them.
At Watercare, we are confident in our role as a service provider and infrastructure developer. We are clear on the parts that contribute to a much greater outcome than their individual sum - our communities, our own people, everyone in our supply chain, our partners as well as the many stakeholders who matter to us.
We look forward to contributing our collective brainpower, perspectives, and solutions.
That's essential, given our role as an investor, an employer, a skills developer, and of course provider of water services to the people of Aotearoa's largest city.
In short, we have a big job to do, and we can only do it alongside others. It is this prospect that keeps me optimistic for 2022 and well beyond.
And, yes, leaving home and getting back to the office again will be a bonus too.
• Jon Lamonte is chief executive of Watercare.