Whanganui will not miss out on urgent repairs or be stuck with water infrastructure debt under the Three Waters governance model.
Mayor Hamish McDouall said one of his main concerns since the Three Waters reforms were announced had been that a larger council within the entity might take priority over a smaller local authority when repairs and maintenance were needed.
"It would be good to know that if there is a burst pipe in Fordell, for instance, then it would be dealt with in the same, or at least similar, timeframe as it would be now," McDouall said.
The council now had the Government's assurance the debt incurred to maintain Whanganui's water infrastructure would be carried by the new entity rather than remaining on the council's books, he said.
"That was another of my main concerns as I was worried about cross-subsidisation under the new structure - that Whanganui would share the cost of improving other districts' infrastructure while still carrying the debt for the work we had already done."
A spokesman for the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) said a key benefit of the reform was the increased investment in the maintenance and replacement of assets.
"The Government's intention is that Three Waters reform should benefit all communities no matter where they are and no matter what the current condition of their three waters infrastructure," he said.
"Another key benefit of reform is the increased investment in maintenance and replacement of assets financed by the new entities' greater ability to borrow more money over a longer period than councils. This in turn means more boots on the ground in local communities with more staff working to maintain and improve services."
The first part of the Three Waters legislation - the Water Services Entities Bill - has passed its first reading in Parliament. Whanganui is set to become a shareholder in the central North Island grouping referred to as entity B along with 21other councils, including Hamilton with a population of 178,500 and Waitomo with a population of 9640.
The bill outlines the basis for the establishment of the four new publicly owned water services entities, which are scheduled to become operational in July 2024. It also promises the entities will "deliver water services and related infrastructure in an efficient and financially sustainable manner".
The DIA spokesman said the Government's commitment was to work to maintain and improve services in all areas, and it estimated an increase of as many as 547 additional fulltime employees in the Whanganui and Manawatū region over the next three decades as a result of reform.
"In addition, the Government will soon provide more information on new economic regulations and consumer protection regime for Three Waters. This may include regulation of minimum service levels for things like callouts. This means the new water services entities are likely to face greater scrutiny of the quality of the services they provide than councils currently do."
The Government has given assurance that council employees who primarily work on water services will be guaranteed a role with the new water service entities that retains key features of their present role, salary, location, leave and hours/days of work.
Whanganui district councillor Alan Taylor said he believed there needed to be more of an urgent focus on stormwater in the Three Waters reforms.
"Although the drinking-water contamination in Havelock North set off the Government's urgency for Three Waters reforms, I think stormwater management is a bigger problem in terms of climate change," Taylor said.
"I think a lot of councils around the country probably need to address their stormwater infrastructure more urgently than they need to upgrade their drinking water quality."
Last year, the responsibility for New Zealand's drinking water regulation moved from the Ministry of Health to the new Crown entity Taumata Arowai. In 2024, the regulator will assume responsibility for wastewater and stormwater networks.
While privately owned rural water suppliers are not required to become part of the four new Three Waters entities, they will be required to meet new standards.
Whanganui Federated Farmers president Mike Cranstone and executive member Tim Matthews are concerned for the future of local rural schemes.
"I think the Whanganui rural and urban populations share the same concerns on the Three Waters reforms," Cranstone said.
"The question is, will the local authorities with broken infrastructures be first in line when we become part of the entity in 2024, and will Whanganui have to subsidise those councils?"
A Rural Supplies Technical Working Group was established to provide advice to Taumata Arowai and DIA. The group "comprised of a wide range of rural expertise, experience and perspectives" and investigated the implications for services to marae and papakāinga.
In some cases where a scheme is critical to farming, and the local community and the users have the capability and resources to operate it, the group recommended they should have the option of seeking direct ownership and operation of the scheme.
Matthews said he did not believe there would be much appetite from local farmers to take over management of the Whanganui rural schemes that were established by landowners in the 1980s and were now managed by the council.
"There would be a lot of time and effort involved which would not be affordable for most," he said.
He was concerned Whanganui might have the need to develop new rural schemes in the future.
"With the Three Waters Reform debate occurring, how would a scheme like the Maxwell or Fordell schemes be developed and managed now?" he said.
Whanganui Rural Community Board chairman Peter Oskam said the group's recommendations were well considered and thought out, although he was concerned Taumata Arowai had not had time to properly assess the needs of rural communities.
"I feel that there is not enough time to iron out most issues and would like to see Taumata Arowai regulations and the application of these over a year or two and then see what other reforms need to take place," he said.
Submissions on the Three Waters legislation are now being accepted and can be made on the Parliament website until July 22.