CHB mayor Alex Walker donned a high-vis, hard hat and steel-capped boots before getting behind the controls of a digger to launch a $30 million investment in the district's drinking water, stormwater and wastewater systems over the next decade.

Dubbed by the CHB District Council as "#thebigwaterstory" during recent consultation on its 2018-28 long term plan, the major investment by council in the "three waters" includes 11 initial key projects, but is part of a larger capital works programme involving more than 50 projects over the next 10 years.

Mayor Walker showed off her earthmoving skills at a "ground breaking" ceremony held last Thursday afternoon in Otane, next to a new 26-lot subdivision being developed by Hastings-based Livingston Properties on the corner of Bell and Dee streets.

In conjunction with the developers, council is upgrading the wastewater system to service the new development. The site was also chosen to host the symbolic launch as the works will form part of stage one of a $2.7m project to create an alternative drinking water supply for Otane - one of the major projects in #thebigwaterstory.

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Initially connected at White Rd, the second supply will eventually link up to the Waipawa reservoir via Higginson St to build resilience. Another major water project, a $845,000 upgrade of Otane's wastewater treatment plant, is in the tender-evaluation stage.

Mayor Walker described the #thebigwaterstory as a large and significant capital works programme which had not "been seen in this district for a very long time".

With the district enjoying significant population growth and 535 new households predicted to be added to the district in the next 10 years, Ms Walker said durable infrastructure was necessary for CHB to not just "survive, but thrive".

"Let's be clear, water for us in CHB is about survival. We need water to survive in our communities but what the big water story is doing is signifying that, actually, the way we manage the way we build durable infrastructure and the way we manage its impact on the environment, is how we thrive as a community."

But it all comes at a cost. The council is forecasting its "modest" debt level to rise from a level of around $3m to $7.7m by the end of June next year, to $15m in 2019/20, and then peak at $17.2m 2021/22.

Those debt levels do not take into account the costs of remedying Waipukurau and Waipawa's non-compliant wastewater treatment plants, which could cost between $12m to $36m to fix.