In the second part of a series on 'How your rates are spent', the Herald finds water bills and a new targeted rate are going towards some huge projects and community initiatives to improve the quality of Auckland's beaches and waterways.
The first thing to know about water is you do not pay rates to turn on the tap and flush the loo.
Most water used by households and businesses in Auckland is based on user-pays charges set by council-owned Watercare, whose job it is to provide high-quality drinking water and take it away for treatment at one of the city's wastewater plants.
The exception to this rule is people in rural parts of the Super City and the islands of the Hauraki Gulf who rely on water tanks.
The only water paid through rates are for stormwater services, like the just completed $25 million Oakley Creek restoration project in West Auckland which has turned a neglected concrete channel into a scenic waterway with native plantings, walkways, cycleways and playgrounds along its banks.
Watercare chief executive Raveen Jaduram is overseeing $5 billion of new projects over the next 10 years under legislation that says water and wastewater prices must be kept to a minimum and the council-controlled organisation cannot make a profit.
Last year, the average monthly household bill for water and wastewater was $81.
Stormwater is provided by the council's Healthy Waters division and funded from rates. From last year, it was topped up with a water-quality targeted rate introduced by Mayor Phil Goff in last year's rates to speed up work cleaning up the city's beaches and waterways. The targeted rate is based on property values and costs about $66 a year for the average household.
On many projects, Watercare and Healthy Waters work together and share costs.
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Jaduram said the past year has seen good progress on a number of projects, not least signing a contract for the $1.2b Central Interceptor project, a giant underground pipeline the height of a giraffe.
Dubbed the "CI", it is the answer to decades of sewage spewing from old pipes every time it rains. It is being built from Western Springs to the Māngere wastewater treatment plant 13km away.
Last year saw the completion of a $141m upgrade of the Māngere wastewater treatment plant to remove nitrogen from the wastewater stream and add capacity for 250,000 more residents.
Water bills also contributed $18m towards a new $105m wastewater plant at Pukekohe, completion of the $35m wastewater treatment plant at Army Bay on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula and improvements to the water supply in the Hunua Ranges.
When it comes to running costs, Jaduram said about a third goes to office costs such as salaries and property leases, 36 per cent to putting aside money to replace assets and the balance to interest on loans and finance.
After decades of under-investment in the city's stormwater system, Healthy Waters general manager Craig McIlroy is delighted to receive extra money from the targeted rate to fund five key projects worth $452m over 10 years.
Starting with $15m from the targeted rate in year one, McIlroy said Healthy Waters was able to spend $20m with money going towards bringing forward a stormwater outfall at Daldy St to reduce overflows into Wynyard Basin ahead of the 2021 America's Cup and a new stormwater tunnel for St Marys Bay.
Last year saw the installation of a stormwater tunnel under the lakes at the Chelsea sugar refinery and several flood-prevention projects, such as the Sunnynook Park dry pond upgrade, which improved pedestrian and cycling access.
Healthy Waters responded to more than 5700 requests to maintain the stormwater network and prevent flooding, such as clearing drains.
McIlroy's team have also overseen the Safeswim programme, the council's real-time water-quality programme during summer and a "safe networks" programme where there are known water-quality issues.
In the past year there has been a major exercise in Takapuna between Healthy Waters and Watercare to try and sort out the northern end of the beach where the water quality is worse than the southern end.
"We have had a massive programme of what I call forensic examination. Every pipe has been dye tested, we have done CCTV, we have picked up some obvious problems that have been fixed and we are about to go through a new round of testing to see how successful we have been," McIlroy said.
Like a lot of water issues in Auckland, he said, it will be an ongoing mission to investigate and maintain the network, saying there is no silver bullet to suddenly fix the problems at Takapuna beach.
The work of local communities and better data collection from Safeswim also saw warning signs come down last summer at four beaches in the Manukau Harbour - Armour Bay, Tamanu East, Clarks Beach and Weymouth Beach.
The beaches are now considered low risk for most of the time, with high-risk periods only around some rainfall events.
"To have healthy beaches you have got to have healthy networks and healthy streams ... if you don't, contamination can find its way to the beach," McIlroy said.
HOW YOUR RATES ARE SPENT - THE SERIES:
• Today: Transport
• Tuesday: Water
• Wednesday: Parks
• Thursday: Economic and cultural development
• Friday: Environment and governance