By Peter Silcock – CCNZ
Three waters networks in a crisis of communication.
Long-term underinvestment in the maintenance, upgrading and replacement of our country’s three waters assets has combined with rising standards, climate change and resilience issues to create a perfect storm.
That storm impacts everyone involved in the industry, including central and local government, designers, engineers and contractors. We need to work together with accurate information, powerful analysis and an open mind to create a system that meets the needs of our communities and is fit for purpose.
Central government has stated its intention to upgrade our water systems and we’re starting to see some calculations around how much it will cost. A recent estimate placed the price tag of meeting the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management’s wastewater goals alone at between $1.4 and $2.3 billion.
This estimate was made as part of the ongoing Three Waters Review conducted by the Department of Internal Affairs. This explores how to improve the management of drinking water, stormwater and wastewater to better support prosperity, health, safety and the environment.
The National Policy Statement is a great step forward because central government needs to ensure absolute clarity about what is required. But it can’t stop there. We need to ensure the bodies charged with managing our three waters assets have the regulatory tools, capability and capacity to do the job.
So, who will pay for the major upgrades needed in our three waters infrastructure?
The traditional source of income for local government is rates. But with rising obligations on ratepayers and changing demographics, some are not able and/or not willing to meet the necessary increase in costs.
PEOPLE ARE COMFORTABLE PAYING $2 OR $3 FOR A 500-MILLILITRE
PLASTIC BOTTLE OF WATER.
So, who will pay? Taxpayers, ratepayers, users, businesses… the community? Ultimately, there is a massive overlap between all these groups. I wonder if we need to look at things differently.
Are the challenges as much a crisis of communication as a failure of regulation and funding?
We need to invest in our water infrastructure and there’s massive value in doing it right. People’s families and properties are at stake. So how did it come to the situation where people don’t want to pay for safe, clean water supplied to their homes?
Watercare charges about $1.50 per 1000 litres of water. Yet people are comfortable paying $2 or $3 for a 500-millilitre plastic bottle of water. Our rough estimate is that people can fill that same bottle about 1800 to 2500 times from the tap for the cost of one bottle of water from the supermarket.
According to the New Zealand Beverage Council, New Zealanders spend around $140 million on bottled water each year. And that doesn’t even consider the cost of disposing of bottles at a time when we’re looking to minimise waste.
The current reality is that we all take our fresh-, waste- and stormwater for granted. That is, until water doesn’t come out of the tap, our beaches are closed due to pollution, and water starts flowing in the front door.
As an industry of water providers, we need to market ourselves much better. We need to help people understand where their water comes from and goes to. How they can help build resilience and reduce environmental impacts. That they can make a difference to the cost and quality of water in their area.
We know the public can save water and reduce the amount of wastewater because we do it during droughts. Why can’t we make some of those behaviour changes permanent? Just look at what is happening with single-use shopping bags.
The public – and particularly younger people – are more conscious than ever about environmental issues. So, let’s connect them with the facts about water and empower them to make changes. This includes facts on funding the infrastructure to supply safe clean water, and to deal with waste- and stormwater in a way that protects both the environment and their property.
This article was first published in the December 2018 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.