To get better outcomes for the community, including safe water and better environment outcomes, the Government wants to change how water services in New Zealand are managed.
Hamilton City Council waters staff do a brilliant job and consistently deliver water services to a high level for our city. At a national level Hamilton stacks up very well and exceeds expectations in terms of our three waters performance but there are national challenges. Like most areas in New Zealand, some more than others, we need to invest a lot more, and we all need to meet new compliance and environmental levels in the future.
Work on this issue has been going for some time. It ramped up in 2016, when water issues in Havelock North saw thousands of people become ill. That specific incident highlighted major flaws in the way New Zealand's water services were managed, and in the way water services were monitored. The Government now believes fundamental change is needed.
Councils across New Zealand have supplied detailed information to the Government about their Three Water services. That information has been compared with the most effective water service organisations internationally. It confirms the way New Zealand manages water services is not culturally, environmentally or financially sustainable.
While many councils, including Hamilton City Council, do a good job of delivering water services right now, many councils are unable to invest enough to maintain and improve their waters assets in the long term. That is particularly the case with smaller councils, which don't have enough ratepayers to help fund what is needed.
Without reform, the costs to deliver quality water, stormwater and wastewater services will become unaffordable to many people. Without reform, the costs to provide Three Waters services in Hamilton will also increase significantly.
The biggest proposed change
The biggest proposed change is moving responsibility for Three Waters from 67 local authorities (councils) to four regional entities nationwide. Hamilton City Council would be part of a central North Island entity involving 22 councils in the greater Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Taranaki, and parts of Manawatu-Whanganui. Boundaries will be confirmed in September 2021.
In addition, a new agency (Taumata Arowai) will take over drinking water compliance from the Ministry of Health.
All waters assets (plants, pipes etc) will continue to be owned by councils, on behalf of their communities. Government has said it will protect community ownership through legislation.
A Regional Representative Group from councils and mana whenua will put in place formal outcomes and expectations for the entity that covers their area.
The Regional Representative Group will also appoint a selection panel for the Governance Board of the new organisation. This professional Governance Board will be competency-based. The Governance Board will appoint a chief executive to manage the new entity, and deliver outcomes and expectations set by the Regional Representative Group.
Discussions are underway between councils and government to find further ways for local communities to influence decision-making in the entities.
All existing water service staff at councils will have jobs in the new entity.
At this stage, these changes are planned to come into effect from July 2024.
Much more information is available on the dedicated DIA Three Waters website