Citycare contract ended a year early

Bryan Cadogan

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Clutha District Council is playing down an early termination of its relationship with its water contractor.

The council, which has had a fraught relationship with Three Waters contractor Citycare Water since as-yet-unattributed lapses in wastewater maintenance occurred in 2019, made the announcement last week.

In a press release, the council said its water operations and maintenance contract with Citycare would end ‘‘by mutual agreement’’ on June 30, a year earlier than the five years originally signed for.

It said the council would now work towards ‘‘a new approach’’ in water services for the district until they became the responsibility of a new water entity by July 1, 2026.

That could include using both council staff and outside contractors to operate and maintain fresh, storm and wastewater services.

The termination — of a contract believed to be worth $20 million over five years — had been anticipated since Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan lambasted Citycare for ‘‘unacceptable’’ lapses in service at a council committee meeting in November last year.

That followed the council’s latest breaches of Otago Regional Council (ORC) consents, relating to a failure to take water quality samples, and a sewage discharge from the Tapanui treatment plant.

In December 2020, the council and Citycare were taken to court by ORC for earlier sewerage network failures, leading to a fine of almost $500,000 for the council.

At the time, Citycare pleaded not guilty to 12 charges relating to the case, a judicial conclusion for which remains pending.

During the November 25 council meeting, Mr Cadogan said the failure to take samples was ‘‘shocking’’, and indicative of a wider service delivery issue.

‘‘I’m at my wits end. Three years ago we had our sewage debacle, yet look where we are today. This is unacceptable.’’

However, neither Mr Cadogan nor council staff would be drawn to expand on the recent announcement, emphasising instead a desire to ‘‘look forward’’.

‘‘There’s nothing to be gained from looking back.

‘‘Our focus is on moving forward and concentrating on how we provide water services for our communities in the future,’’ a spokeswoman said.

Quizzed on reported recruitment challenges in the Three Waters area at present, the council said it was confident it would have sufficient staff to manage its network during the transition to entity control.

‘‘Recent recruitments in this area have been successful, which gives us reason to hope it will continue to be positive.

‘‘Staff are progressing plans for how water operations will continue after the contract ends.’’

The spokeswoman would not confirm if existing or former Citycare Water staff would be among employees and contractors eligible for consideration.

A Citycare spokeswoman said any inquiries should be referred to the council.