Water Review To Ensure Safety, Security And Efficiency

  • Tony Ryall
Local Government

A long term review of water services to ensure safe, secure and efficient supply was announced today by Enterprise and Commerce Minister Max Bradford, and Local Government Minister Tony Ryall.

“The review is about finding the best way of managing and maintaining water and wastewater infrastructure to get the services we all need. It is not about cost cutting or privatisation”, the Ministers said.

“The Government believes the ownership of local authority water and wastewater infrastructure is a matter for local communities to decide.”

The Ministers said concerns have been raised about NZ’s water and wastewater infrastructure over a number of years by local authorities, water industry participants and other groups interested in the water and wastewater sector. These concerns included:

  • the fragmented nature of the regulatory framework for water and wastewater and how it can inhibit good management practices;
  • the poor state of the infrastructure in some areas and the need to address how the cost of maintenance and replacement can be met;
  • the variable quality of drinking water (in some areas there is potential for public health to be compromised); and
  • the impact the sector can have on the environment.

“If we don’t take the initiative, the emerging issues faced by the sector will become more difficult to manage, and more expensive to fix in the future. The Mercury Energy failure, and recent overseas events demonstrate the need for sound infrastructural investment and maintenance”, Mr Bradford said.

“Investment in water and wastewater infrastructure is a critical issue facing many local authorities right now, particularly in the Auckland region”, Mr Ryall said.

The review is expected to take 18 months to two years to complete and will include wide consultation throughout. An initial discussion document setting out issues and preliminary options is scheduled for release March/April of next year. The review will also include stormwater services, where appropriate.

NEW ZEALAND WATER, WASTEWATER, AND STORMWATER SECTOR

New Zealander’s consume about 2,000 million cubic metres of water each year (not including hydro-electricity). Of this, about 11% is used by people in their homes. Other uses are irrigation (57%), livestock (18%), and industry (14%).

Water Supply

The majority of New Zealanders receive water supplies from local authorities, however private water supply also plays a role, particularly in industry Information obtained from a Ministry of Health survey, 1998.

Relevant facts are:

  • of the population receive community water supplies from local authorities;
  • 4 % of the population rely on private community supplies provided by individuals or bodies such as schools, motels and hospitals;
  • 11% of the population relies on individual household supply, including rainwater collection and the use of bores; and
  • industry obtains 66% of its water requirements from non-public supply sources.

Ministry of Health statistics indicate that around three quarters of the population is currently receiving safe water supply, in accordance with international criteria:

  • 85% of the population on community water supplies, or 77% of the total population, receives safe water in accordance with normal international criteria Bacteriologically free and complying with chemical standards.; and
  • 23% of the population receives either unsafe water or water of unknown quality.
  • Wastewater (Including Sewerage And Tradewaste)

There are more than 220 sewage treatment plants in New Zealand and approximately 80% of households are connected. Two thirds of the treatment plants serve communities with populations less than 20,000.

All towns with populations of 5,000 or more have reticulated sewerage systems which pipe everyone’s wastewater to a common point of discharge. However, approximately 15-20% of the population use septic tanks.

Infrastructure

Local government owns infrastructual assets worth approximately $22 billion. When last estimated, local authority water and wastewater infrastructure was valued in 1992/93 at approximately $6 billion, with annual expenditure of approximately $485 million.

Legislation

Key pieces of legislation governing the provision of the water, wastewater, and stormwater services include the Local Government Act 1974, the Rating Powers Act 1988, the Resource Management Act 1991, Health Act 1956, and the Commerce Act 1986

It is estimated that there are over 30 pieces of legislation relating to the sector.

Sources: New Zealand Official Yearbook, 1998; Statistics New Zealand, Wellington, 1998; New Zealand Register of Community Drinking Water Supplies, 1996;

Register of Community Drinking Water Supplies, 1997; Ministry of Health; and State of the Environment Report, 1997; The Ministry for the Environment