Crucial decision looms on future of water services

27 Jul 2021

Thames-Coromandel District Council has been promised an additional $16m in government funding if it hands over control of water services and assets to a new management body.

As part of its Three Waters reform measures, the government is setting up four regional public-owned entities which aim to take over both provision of water and investment in water infrastructure from district councils in a bid to address years of underinvestment.

The support payments are being offered to councils across the country to help with transitioning to the new water services delivery model, but can also be used to target other local outcomes associated with community wellbeing.

Statistics from the Department of Internal Affairs suggest joining the scheme would reduce both council debt and the cost of water services to households in the Thames-Coromandel District. As part of the scheme, TCDC’s $89m in water related debt would transfer to the new water management agency, while it is estimated the current average annual water costs of $2,250 per household would more than halve to $1,220 over the next 30 years. If council stays outside of the reforms, it’s predicted water charges would spiral to $5,450 over the same period.

Despite the numbers, both the TCDC mayor, Sandra Goudie, and deputy mayor, Murray McClean, continue to express uncertainty about whether Thames-Coromandel should sign-up or what, if any, discussions need to happen with the wider community. 

“The Government’s support package and other recent announcements about its three waters reforms programme will have significant local impact. I don’t think there is a good understanding in our community of what it means and how it will affect people. We’re carefully reviewing all the material that has been released over the last few weeks to decide if community consultation is required before we commit further to the process,” said Mayor Goudie.

Councillor McClean said there were still a lot of questions to be answered about how the reforms would work, suggesting “the devil will be in the detail”. 

TCDC entered a Memorandum of Understanding with the government around the Three Waters in 2020 following which $2.4m was made available for the installation of water meters at homes in Whitianga and Whangamata. However, this did not involve any commitment to handing over assets or reforming services.

While TCDC councillors remain undecided, Thames-Coromandel’s Waikato Regional Council representative, Denis Tegg, is adamant that there is only one realistic option. “Thames Coromandel District Council has $89 million in three waters debt, the highest water charges, woeful non-compliance with the drinking water standard and three waters resource consent conditions and 53 percent of properties suffer unplanned outages. These are just some of the reasons why TCDC would be crazy to turn down the government assistance package and reform proposals, have this huge debt written off their balance sheet and ensure much lower future costs for their ratepayers,” he said in statement.

The Three Waters Reform Programme is a nationwide plan to address the $120 - $185 billion cost of upgrading drinking, storm and wastewater infrastructure across the country to meeting increasing demand and environmental and drinking water standards.

Pictured: The future management of TCDC water services and facilities including the pictured water treatment plant is yet to be decided.