Water Leaders Must Drive Reform

Water Leaders Must Drive Reform

I arrived in New Zealand in 1999 having lived through the reform of the water industry in the United Kingdom.  Soon after, I wrote an article for the Local Government magazine saying that I thought larger funding bases were required in the water industry in New Zealand.  It was clear to me then and it’s still clear now that the “user pays” approach had done its dash and a new approach was required.  Here we are 16 years later and nothing has really changed.

The problem the Drinking Water Assessors, Councils and other water suppliers have is the position we’re in currently. We can’t start penalising water suppliers for being stuck in a legacy that built this country and made it what it is. 

We (those involved in the industry) need to take a lead in this in a number of areas.

Firstly, we need to push for the removal of political interference at a local level.  How can a 25 or 30 year infrastructure investment plan be successful if those who are ‘interfering’ are worried about being re-elected in 3 years and have been elected on a rates reduction basis?  There are notable exceptions to this comment that validate it all the more.

Secondly, we need to get out of our “user pays” mentality and look at other funding methodologies.  I prefer that those who benefit pay, i.e. all of us.

Finally, we need to take a really hard look at setting up a New Zealand Water Company and a regulator.  Anything smaller is going to run into the same problems eventually.  Take a look at Scotland, England, the United States and Australia and see what’s working well, what’s working poorly and what’s not working at all.

This is not a call for privatisation.   It’s not about who owns the utility. It’s about how we manage our infrastructure going forward and how we supply water to a few people in small communities.

Here in New Zealand, we have one major urban centre with any money – Auckland.    This means that Auckland needs to assist the funding requirements of all the rural councils.  What I’m advocating is that we remove the gate on the Bombay Hills permanently and we start looking at our water supply on a national level.  Our rivalries should be kept for the rugby field not infrastructure development.

You can read the article Hitting the Hard End of the Drinking Water Law here.

by Iain Rabbitts, Water and Wastewater Manager at Harrison Grierson.

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