Counting the costs of safe, clean water

A new report continues to build a picture of looming potential costs as the Government seeks to ensure safe drinking water, and better environmental performance of the country’s wastewater infrastructure, said the Minister of Local Government Hon Nanaia Mahuta.

The GHD-Boffa Miskell report – Cost estimates for upgrading wastewater treatment plants to meet objectives of the NPS Freshwater – released today as part of the Three Waters Review, suggests that raising the standards of wastewater treatment plants that discharge into rivers and lakes across the country could cost up to $2 billion.

“This does not include the costs of upgrading infrastructure for discharging to beaches and coastal environments, nor the unknown but potentially even higher costs of preventing wastewater pollution on beaches and in urban environments through stormwater overflows,” said Hon Nanaia Mahuta.

“We already know that the cost of infrastructure upgrades to meet drinking water standards is in the region of $500 million.

“When you put all this together with other factors such as increasing tourism numbers and protecting our clean green image, the infrastructure requirements associated with population growth, changing consumer expectations, climate change and the need to build in resilience against natural disasters, it suggests a significant funding challenge ahead for councils and communities,’’ Nanaia Mahuta said.

She added that work on the Three Waters Review was complex and far-reaching but was progressing well.

“I think there is a good level of agreement across the local government sector on the need to address drinking water safety with a new regulatory regime, as recommended by the Havelock North Drinking Water Inquiry.

“We are also working hard on how we can improve environmental performance and having discussions with the sector and other interested parties. Upgrading wastewater treatment plants are part of this and the GHD-Boffa Miskell report provides some of the data required to help to inform that conversation.

“There are more gaps to fill in, but it adds to the picture of mounting costs,” said Nanaia Mahuta.

Minister Mahuta said she intended to take proposals towards new and enhanced regulatory arrangements, as well as considerations for further developing high-level service delivery options, to Cabinet in the next few weeks.

All arrangements and options agreed to for further work will be subject to engagement – with local government, the water sector, and iwi/Māori – and subsequent policy development during 2019.

Note to Editors :

The GHD-Boffa Miskell report Cost estimates for upgrading wastewater treatment plants to meet objectives of the NPS Freshwater, and a context statement for the report can be read here