Some councils in the Wellington region are quadrupling their spend on water infrastructure renewals, but Upper Hutt City Council is increasing its budget by just 15 per cent.
Fronting the water woes crisis with a significant uplift in spending is a priority for most draft Long Term Plans (LTP) in Wellington. These are councils' 10-year budgets.
A 2021/31 Long Term Planning Update, presented in a recent Wellington Water Committee meeting, has revealed just how much more councils are proposing to spend on renewal investments.
Despite the hefty increases, Porirua Mayor Anita Baker has conceded it will never be enough.
Hutt City Council is looking at spending $339 million over 10 years, which is more than four times the amount allocated when the LTP was last reviewed in 2018.
"We know there has been a historic underinvestment in three waters infrastructure in our city and this LTP, this plan, is all about fronting up to that challenge," Mayor Campbell Barry said.
Wellington Water manages water assets for the Hutt, Porirua, Upper Hutt and Wellington City councils, South Wairarapa District Council and Greater Wellington Regional Council.
The company estimated up to half of Hutt City's three waters assets will be due for replacement in the next 30 years, based on age.
It comes at a time when Lower Hutt's population is rapidly growing. The city has recently made changes to its district plan making way for higher density living.
Lower Hutt has caught the eye of those being pushed out of Wellington City's housing market, Barry said.
Initial population projections estimated the city would reach 110,000 people by 2030- a figure that was surpassed last year in 2020, he said.
Meanwhile, neighbouring Upper Hutt City Council isn't considering a massive step-change in investment for renewals.
Figures the council provided to the Herald show it plans to increase its budget by just 15 per cent, bringing the spend over ten years to $78m.
An Upper Hutt City Council spokesperson said the age of the city's underground water infrastructure is younger than the rest of the Wellington region's and therefore in better condition.
They said this was due to large urban development that occurred in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
In a Wellington Water Committee meeting on Friday, Baker questioned Upper Hutt Mayor Wayne Guppy on the comparatively smaller investment.
Guppy told her the council was investing what they deemed to be appropriate.
The council spokesperson noted they have committed to increasing three waters operational expenditure by 5 per cent year-on-year for the first three years of the LTP, subject to consultation.
They also pointed to capital funding in the pipeline for critical projects including the Pinehaven Stream flood remediation, Barbour Grove Main Trunk Line, the Waste Water Treatment plant upgrade, and the Petone Interceptor upgrade.
Over in Porirua, the city council is almost tripling its spending on renewals, to $85 million over the next ten years.
But Baker admitted it wasn't enough.
"No matter how much we put in, it's never enough to actually get all the work done," she said.
Wellington Water gave councils free and frank advice last year about how much was needed to look after existing infrastructure ahead of the LTP process.
The range of investment options included ones which did not take affordability into account. They were basically provided as an "ideal world" sum to show the size of the problem.
That option for Porirua amounted to $150 million.
Baker said that sort of investment was "out of reach" for councils and exemplified the need for central government to step in and help.
Regardless, she hoped the $85 million they have committed to will go a way towards cleaning up the city's harbour.
Wellington Water advised Porirua's renewals would be focused to reduce localised collapses and blockages, which lead to chronic pollution in streams and the harbour.
The company estimated about 60 per cent of Porirua's water assets are due for renewal within the next 30 years. Over that time the city's population could grow by as much as 50 per cent.
Wellington City is proposing to spend $326 million on renewals over the next 10 years, an increase of 47 per cent.
Three waters portfolio leader and councillor Sean Rush acknowledged this increase was not as substantial as other councils, but he said it was still a significant uplift.
"It's a start and we're in a difficult financial situation."
Wellington City in particular is facing myriad cost pressures including seismic issues and the $6.4 billion Let's Get Wellington Moving project.
Rush noted there was also an issue of scale with only finite resources both in-house and in the construction market.
"Do-ability" was an issue Upper Hutt City Council also cited.
South Wairarapa District Council, which has recently joined Wellington Water, will increase its spend from $8 million to $34 million.
The Long Term Planning update noted underinvestment in water infrastructure has happened over a long period of time and therefore it would take many years to turn the problem around.
"We need to act now to start to get ahead of these issues, this means investing in activities such as planned maintenance, renewals and building capability," the report said.