by Geoffrey Churchman

In July I attended a 4-hour seminar in Wellington, one of several around the country that the Dept of Internal Affairs organised.

About 100 local authority people were there including a few from Kapiti.

Details of the proposal can be seen here, but in a nutshell it is for a central authority, Taumata Arowai, to take charge of all local council Drinking Water, Wastewater and Stormwater infrastructure ostensibly so that substantially more money can be spent on on it than has been so far, overall. It means councils handing over these assets to this authority.

On his Facebook page, Cr Gwynn Compton provides this straightforward  summary:

One of the most important things local government delivers across New Zealand is management of what’s known as the “Three Waters” – drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater.
At our upcoming Kāpiti Coast District Council meeting [today] we’re going to decide whether to participate in the first phase of the Government’s reform programme for the Three Waters.
Following the Havelock North water crisis in 2016, and inquiry was put in place to recommend improvements to the management of drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater around New Zealand, and the recommendations from that inquiry have informed the Government’s Three Waters reform programme. One of the reforms is the establishment of a water regulator who will set and oversee drinking water standards, but the other stream of it (pun intended) is around whether or not there needs to be amalgamation of Three Water infrastructure around the country.
Participating in the first phase of this stream opens up around $6.2 million in funding from the Government to go towards accelerating work on our Three Waters (though mainly focused on drinking and wastewater).
In exchange, we would sign a memorandum of understanding with the Government to take part in good faith discussions about possible reforms for the Three Waters and provide information about our infrastructure to them to help them get a better picture about the state of Three Waters management across New Zealand.
Importantly, if council does agree to proceed with participating in the first phase of the reform, it doesn’t commit council to participating in any further phases of it. That will be a decision council would need to make towards the middle of 2021, when the Government expects to have a proposal for the next phase of Three Waters reform on the table.
When that second phase comes around there will be a lot of things to consider. For example, we’re all aware of the issues with the water networks in Porirua and Wellington that will cost those communities hundreds of millions to fix. While here in Kāpiti, our drinking and wastewater infrastructure is pretty good with some things we need to improve in terms of rural supplies, but we have in place a programme in our long term plan for $258 million worth of stormwater upgrades to address flooding issues over the next 45 years. These issues are going to play out around the country, so the Government will need to have a very sharp pencil in terms of what they’re offering in order to make any proposal workable and equitable across communities.
There have been some early indications of where Government’s thinking is on this, that is they’re leaning towards a preferred model of amalgamating at least drinking and wastewater services into three to five large multi-regional public organisations across the country. The rationale they’ve given is drinking and wastewater infrastructure and closely connected, while stormwater infrastructure is more closely related to other work territorial authorities do. Obviously that could change depending on what information they collect from councils participating in phase one of the reforms.
It’s also possible that on the basis of what information they collect, the Government could decide to keep the Three Waters with territorial authorities or they could take the decision out of local communities’ hands all together. If you’ll excuse the phrase, there’s still a lot of water to go under the bridge.
The other major issue which the latter phases of the Three Waters reform would trigger if it proceeds as planned will be around the structure of local government in New Zealand.
Management of the Three Waters is a major component of what local government does. If this does get removed, even if it is just drinking and wastewater, then the structure of local government may need to change to, especially to ensure smaller councils remain financially viable. That is a discussion that I would strongly encourage the Government to have in parallel as they’re developing their proposals for the second phase of the Three Waters reform, as it’ll be difficult for councils to decide whether or not to proceed further if that bigger question around the structure of local government which will be triggered by going ahead doesn’t have any road map on how it may be addressed.
Hope this has been of some help and apologies for the meandering (pun intended again) length of it. There’s more information that I’d encourage you to read in the agenda for our next Council meeting [here, pages 59-86]


No-one is going to turn down an offer of free money and as expected, today the KCDC agreed to sign up to the Memorandum of Understanding as it means the handout mentioned (which needs to actually be spent on water infrastructure) but without the commitment to go any further with the scheme in about a year from now.

My feeling is that there is a mix of good intentions and questionable ideology on the part of the government. The ideological problems include removing localism and the creation of centralised bureaucracy.

Drinking water involves two big controversies — water meters and fluoridation.   We were told at the seminar that there will be no driving of water metering by Taumata Arowai.  In break-out sessions, the table that I sat at had 5 Wellington City Council people — including the Chief Executive and three councilors — and as readers know, the WCC does not have water meters. Needless to say, I encouraged them to keep it that way, with which they seemed to agree. The alleged benefits promoted by regular KCDC media releases have simply been propaganda to soothe the widespread hostility by ratepayers.  Helping in the process of finding and fixing leaks on private property is really the only benefit that can be pointed to.

Not all local councils fluoridate their water: in Kapiti those who get their supply from the Waikanae Treatment Plant — being those who live in Waikanae Paparaumu and Raumati — get fluoridated water, but not those in Otaki and Paekakariki.  My view is that water should not be fluoridated as it removes individual choice, and while for most people it is fairly harmless, that’s not true for everybody.

There was also a distinct lack of enthusiasm by the WCC people for the new government set-up proposals, too.  One objection is that efficient managers will effectively be subsidizing the inefficient ones.

Below is a subsequent mail from the organisers of the seminars:

The central/local government joint *Three Waters Steering Committee would like to thank you for your participation in the recent Three Waters workshops. We appreciate the time you took to attend and the valuable knowledge and expertise you contributed through the discussion. This will continue to be important as the Three Waters Reform Programme progresses.

As you will know, in July Prime Minister Hon Jacinda Ardern and Local Government Minister Hon Nanaia Mahuta announced a $761 million fund for Three Waters recovery stimulus and reform.

This series of workshops  was designed to support councils to understand what they would need to do to receive the stimulus and reform funding, what they were signing up to, and what they could spend their allocation on. They are the first of ongoing discussions the Steering Committee will have with you on this programme.

Feedback from the workshops

Today the Committee held the final of 14 workshops in this initial round of conversations. Around 1050 elected members, council staff, and iwi/hapū representatives have attended the workshops across the country and contributed to this important discussion during the last three weeks.

Feedback from the workshops has informed our guidance documents on the funding (see below), and we have collected a large number of questions and considerations for the Steering Committee to work through as we progress through this work.

We are working at pace to produce a report on the workshops that will provide insight on questions that can be answered at this stage, and line of sight on how/when outstanding questions and considerations will be addressed as the programme progresses. We aim to make this report available to you shortly.

Announcement on Funding Allocations

During the workshops a core question was around the allocation of funding to councils. On 4 August 2020, the Minister of Local Government, Hon Nanaia Mahuta, announced the regional allocations of the stimulus and reform funding. You can view this announcement here: The individual council allocations can be found here:$file/Notional-Funding-Allocations.pdf

We also received feedback on support councils need to consider the Memorandum of Understanding, Funding Agreement and Delivery Plan. This has informed guidance material provided to Mayors, Chairs and Chief Executives in conjunction with the allocation announcement and is now available on the Three Waters Reform Programme website: We will continue to update this website with information as it is available.

In addition, the Steering Committee has written to Mayoral Forum Chairs with the guidance on the regional allocation, and SOLGM have hosted two further webinars for Chief Executives, Financial Officers and legal teams.

Long Term Plans

Many territorial authorities have raised questions regarding the potential implications of the reform proposals for the next long-term planning cycle. The Steering Committee intends to provide some guidance on that.

Ongoing conversations and engagement, including with iwi, hapū and Māori

If at this stage we are unable to answer a number of your questions, this is because there is a great deal of work ahead of us to understand and explore, in partnership, a range of technical, legal, commercial and social issues. This reflects the early stage we are at in this project, and the genuine commitment from the Steering Committee to work with you in the design process for reform.

As noted in the workshops, the Crown’s formal engagement with iwi, hapū and Māori groups will begin in the coming months with targeted engagement, in conjunction with Taumata Arowai. The reform of three waters service delivery is likely to present a range of Treaty interests which will need to be identified and explored as part of the reform programme. It is important these are well understood and that the work of the Steering Committee is informed by this relationship throughout the reform programme.

We look forward having ongoing discussions with you as this work progresses.

Ngā mihi, Three Waters Steering Committee