Major investment in safe drinking water

The Government is investing $761 million to assist local government upgrade under-pressure water services across the country, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta announced today.

The announcement was made at the site of the water bore that was found to be the source of the fatal Havelock North campylobacter outbreak in 2016.

“New Zealand’s public water infrastructure is run down and needs upgrading, but local government often doesn’t have the resources needed to fix it. This $761 million investment will kick-start much needed work to bring our drinking, waste and storm water infrastructure up to scratch,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“Nationally the estimated capital costs of upgrading drinking water treatment plants to meet health standards is between $309 and $574 million. The investment will help to cover some of these costs. 

“Investing in water infrastructure is about investing in the health of New Zealanders. Four years ago more than 5000 people got sick and up to four died in the Havelock North campylobacter outbreak and we don’t want to see that happen again.

“Our problems with drinking water aren’t limited to the Hawkes Bay. At least 34,000 New Zealanders become ill from drinking tap water every year and many communities around the country cannot drink their water without first boiling it.

“COVID-19 has put additional pressures on local government. Councils that own and run water services need assistance to maintain or renew infrastructure. In particular rural Councils with small ratings bases often can’t afford the sort of investment need to upgrade their water infrastructure.

“For example Hawke’s Bay councils will receive in the region of $50 million between them to assist with their water infrastructure upgrade work,” Jacinda Ardern said.

The financial investment from the Government is contingent on local councils opting in to the Government’s wider water reform programme. The cumulative effect of increasing capital costs, infrastructure maintenance and upgrades, enhanced standards and environmental challenges mean that the current operational and governance arrangements for water are not sustainable and consolidation is required.

“There are massive looming costs across the Three Waters networks and the current service delivery arrangements, particularly for the smaller rural and provincial councils, are not well-placed to meet these,” Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta said.

“Today’s announcement will lend the reform programme’s initial stages very real impetus and Councils will need to sign up to the wider reform agenda in order to access the Government’s funding.

“We want to see new arrangements made that provide scale in the form of public multi-regional water entities – and take account of catchment-related and communities-of-interest considerations.

“I want to acknowledge the progress that Hawke’s Bay’s councils have already made towards investigating shared service arrangements. This will put them, along with others who have developed similar initiatives, in an excellent position to consider the advantages of the reform programme.’’

Nanaia Mahuta congratulated Local Government for its leadership in recognising the challenges and proposing a partnership approach to addressing these.

“I’m particularly pleased with the establishment of the joint Central/Local Government Three Waters Steering Committee and the work it has already done, and will continue to do, as we advance this conversation.

“New Zealanders in all our communities have every right to turn on the tap and drink the water in the knowledge that it is safe. We also want to be able to swim in our rivers and lakes and go to the beach and gather kai moana without getting sick.

“I’m excited to be starting this new stage of the water journey with our local government counterparts,” Nanaia Mahuta said.