LGNZ has welcomed the Government’s release of a report by GHD and Boffa Miskell into the costs of upgrading wastewater treatment plants, noting that it supports the sector’s call for a targeted policy response to help small rural councils pay for hard infrastructure upgrades.
“We have long been calling for the government to put in place targeted support for small communities struggling to pay for water infrastructure replacements, particularly as their ratings base shrinks due to aging and urbanisation,” says LGNZ President Dave Cull.
“The report supports this kind of policy intervention, noting that the upgrade affordability challenge is concentrated among a subset of water treatment plants, which only service about 13 per cent of New Zealand’s population.”
“What it doesn’t support is wholesale restructuring of the water sector into regional water monopolies. This report shows that there are specific issues in the wastewater space that need specific policy solutions, targeted to where the problem is, not one-size-fits-all mandatory aggregation.”
Bay of Plenty Regional Council Chair and head of LGNZ’s Regional Sector group Doug Leeder also noted that any reforms to wastewater infrastructure need to be made within the context of the catchments that they discharge into.
“We know that the biggest challenge in the freshwater space is managing diffuse discharges from sources and not point sources, like water treatment plants. In many cases, bringing wastewater plants up to the highest standards would not make a meaningful difference to water quality in some catchments without addressing the impact that diffuse discharges have on these freshwater bodies.”
“We need to focus our efforts to where we can make the most difference in delivering the freshwater standards that New Zealand communities want. We’ve been working closely with Minister for the Environment David Parker on putting in an effective set of regulatory tools to do this. This cooperative partnership is an example of how central government and local government can work together to tackle some of the most challenging environmental issues that we face in New Zealand today.”
Mr Cull noted that ultimately local and central government have the same objective in mind, which is to improve the living standards of all New Zealanders, and councils remain committed to doing their part.
“We need to approach reform of the three waters space in the same spirit of cooperation. Only by working together with the owners of the assets and the communities that pay for them can central government put in place effective policy reforms,” says Mr Cull.
LGNZ has played a leading role is the three waters policy space, having conducted a National Information Framework Survey in 2014, which collected detailed data on the three waters assets and services from a total of 70 councils. LGNZ’s 3 Waters Issue Paper provides an overview of this data, and can be downloaded here.
This data was used as the basis of LGNZ’s 3 Waters Position Paper, which was published in 2015, which argued for a refresh of the regulatory framework to ensure delivery of quality potable and waste water services. The paper can be downloaded here. This work informs LGNZ’s Water 2050 project, which advocates for a coherent policy framework that addresses freshwater and water infrastructure issues.