The Government's plans to push ahead with the Three Waters reforms have particular concerns for the Whanganui rural sector, a farming leader says.
Whanganui Federated Farmers president Mike Cranstone said he was especially concerned about the future of rural water supply schemes in the move to transfer control of drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure from local councils into four big regional water authorities.
"Around 70 per cent of the costs for establishing and operating the schemes have been funded by local communities," Cranstone said.
"There is so much local knowledge and funding reserves that have been built up over generations. Will the funds be confiscated and will all that knowledge and experience be lost in the Three Waters reforms process? We have not received any information or reassurance from the Government."
The rural schemes stemmed from a mid-1980s government-led initiative to ensure adequate stock water for farms during a drought-prone era and, as kiwifruit production and rural lifestyle blocks increased, the infrastructure was upgraded for high-quality, potable water.
The government provided a 30 per cent subsidy to landowners who provided the
balance to fund the infrastructure to store and distribute the water over their properties.
There were four local schemes overseen by governance committees with local authorities providing administration services.
The first scheme - Nukumaru - was transferred to South Taranaki district after the local government reforms of 1991. The Maxwell, Westmere and Fordell schemes later amalgamated and are now managed by Whanganui District Council water services staff, with public and landowner participation now only through the council's annual plan process.
Cranstone said the loss of local knowledge and expertise in managing water infrastructure was a serious concern and he did not believe the proposed model would deliver.
"Even if the expertise is retained, will those people be able to work effectively under the new management structure?
"If you have three people sweeping the roads, for example, they can be effectively managed by someone who knows their abilities and also has other responsibilities.
"Once you have 20 people sweeping the roads, you need someone to specifically manage them and once you get those tiers of bureaucracy the close relationships and understanding get lost.
"There are far better management models and if the Three Waters Reform Programme was a business proposition, it would not be a good one."
Cranstone said while he understood that water reforms were necessary and he supported the establishment of the new Government regulation authority Taumata Arowai, he believed the Three Waters Reform Programme in its proposed form would not serve the Whanganui region well.
"The whole process concerns me - it is the largest asset shift we have seen since 1989 and the way it has been pushed through is not democracy."
Whanganui had been "very proactive" in maintaining its three waters infrastructure, resulting in a level of water quality that placed the district in a position of strength which he believed the Government needed to recognise and reward, Cranstone said.
"Despite these long-standing diligent efforts, we could end up subsidising other councils' inertia in upgrading and maintaining their water infrastructures."
Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall said he had similar concerns.
"I have expressed those concerns since the consultation process began and questions about these matters were included in our response to the Government last year and we have not heard back yet," he said.
"Keeping that institutional knowledge in Whanganui and being recognised for our sound management of water assets are paramount concerns."
The Whanganui District Council was still waiting for answers to questions on Three Waters sent in September 2021.