After years of consulting and debate by successive governments, the much anticipated Three Waters reforms have been announced.
The proposal includes major changes to the delivery of drinking, waste and stormwater services.
In brief, there will be a staged process of change over the next two years with a number of key decisions required. The first is required before August 31 and asks whether council wishes to opt into the Memorandum of Understanding enabling council to access tranche one of government funding.
The total tranche one funding pool across the country is $761 million and if Stratford opts in, our share will be around $2.5m.
This funding would enable us to bring forward work like the building of a second major water trunk main or increased water storage capacity. This initial funding is regarded as stimulus funding supporting local job creation and economic recovery.
In return council has to provide information about its three waters infrastructure and explore the options for aggregated water management across the region and beyond. There is no requirement to commit to the tranche two phase, where the compulsory element kicks in. That will be the point when the really big decisions will be made.
The focus on drinking water was brought to the fore during the 2016 Havelock North water crisis when over 5000 residents fell ill due to a campylobacter outbreak. An inquiry followed identifying major shortcomings in the water quality monitoring processes.
These reforms address that issue with the creation of a dedicated monitoring authority which is now in the establishment process.
Some councils have water supply schemes that fall well short of the required standards and major infrastructure investment is needed. This isn't the case in our district. Ours are performing well, justifying the significant investment and focus on core services we've made over the last decade. In fact, we haven't had a single compliance incident in the last two years.
The reforms go way beyond providing a new monitoring service. They include a new governance structure removing all water services from councils and being vested in yet to be formed new entities.
These entities will take over ownership of infrastructure and responsibility for all water services across much larger areas. We may end up being part of an entity stretching across the lower half of the North Island or alternatively across the mid-central North Island, akin to the Hurricanes or Chiefs areas.
Whether we enter into this new arrangement or stay out is optional. There will be substantial cash incentives to opt in but we need to remain very, very wary of the perceived benefits being promoted and the potential unintended consequences.
Many are saying this will be the single most important decision councils will make since the 1989 local government reforms and I agree. My main concern is it will have a negative impact on other council activities and costs.