The ‘Three Waters’ cover the interconnected drinking water, waste water and storm water systems. The Coalition Government is now engaged in a conversation with New Zealand’s local government sector, which owns and manages most of the water assets, after the inquiry into the Havelock North campylobacter outbreak. The outbreak which followed the contamination of an aquifer left 5000 people sick and has been blamed for four associated deaths.
New Zealand has a system wide problem that will need a system wide, collaborative solution. Figures released last week show that one in five New Zealanders are drinking water from water supplies that don’t meet current drinking water standards.
We know that meeting the national recommendations of the Havelock North inquiry could cost drinking water suppliers between $305 million and $567 million. The Three Waters Review work to date suggests that upgrading wastewater infrastructure will cost a great deal more.
I hope that by visiting Dublin, Edinburgh and London I can see at first-hand how they have managed to rise to their challenges, how their reforms were funded and what lessons we can learn from their experience.
Scotland and Ireland each have a single publicly-owned authority providing both drinking and wastewater and England has multiple authorities. The Minister will also be talking to a London council, government departments and their Ministers.
The scale of the challenge in New Zealand is great but I believe the status quo is simply not sustainable. We want to work with local government and the wider water sector to meet this challenge.
Everything is on the table for us to consider except that the continuing public ownership of existing infrastructure remains my bottom line for reform.
I hope to report back to Cabinet on options and recommendations in October.