First report on rural waters released

Still waters . .. Storage tanks on rural water scheme spokesman John Whiteside’s Waiwera South farm are filled by a scheme originating more than 8km away, at Clydevale bridge. PHOTO: NICK BROOK

Clutha District’s Rural Water Steering Group (RWSG) released its position report last Friday and is now waiting for the Government’s Three Waters mid-lower South island water entity (Entity D) to do the same.

All rural water schemes (RWS) will transfer from councils to Entity D under Three Waters legislation on July 1, 2024.

However, a RWS can be taken back into community ownership if more than 85% of its water is for non-household use and 75% of user voters are in favour of community ownership.

All 11 of Clutha district’s schemes qualify.

‘‘Clutha’s action is very much a test case, with the rest of the country watching,’’ spokesman John Whiteside said.

‘‘Entity D came into law before Christmas and is still collecting staff for their own report.

‘‘It’s now a waiting game to see what Entity D oversight looks like. Right now we only have half the necessary information.’’

The commissioned report summarised expectations that under community ownership there would be greater local knowledge and control but significant cost increase, high individual liability and difficult operational challenges.

Entity D ownership would allow greater operational capability and capacity, greater capital access for future investment needs, economic regulation and consumer protection.

However, under the proposed governance arrangements of water services entities, there was a risk of less influence from those presently involved in running the schemes and uncertainty around future pricing and service levels until plans were produced.

The 11 water schemes were implemented from the 1960s to enable farming throughout drought conditions, and manage 2400km of pipeline, 12 treatment plants and high water quality, backed by $26 million in recent and committed upgrades — all paid for without subsidies by each scheme’s consumer’s rates bills.

‘‘It was truly a community solution for a problem only a community could overcome.’’

The Clutha District Council (CDC) ‘‘recognised early that rural water was at risk of being swallowed and forgotten’’, leading to the formation of the Rural Supplies Technical Working Group, chaired by Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan, Mr Whiteside said.

The group identified the differences between RWS and standard Three Waters and developed recommendations on how RWS might be managed throughout New Zealand.

After that, Clutha interests formed the RWSG and engaged consulting firm Morrison Low to help study and develop a framework and pathway for local water schemes.

‘‘It’s not about refusing to get on board with the government, we’re just asserting that information from both sides has to be gathered and shared in democratic debate so water users can take an informed vote on what path to take, rather than getting mandated,’’ Mr Whiteside said.

‘‘If we see that coming under Entity D is in our best interests, that’s what we’ll do, but we think the entity should be under a legislative framework with regards to management and operations if they do take over. ’’

The RWSG report was completed over two weeks ago but release was delayed while the Minister of Local Government and Emergency Management Kieran McAnulty was managing flooding in the North Island.