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What are the Three Waters?

Three Waters is the overarching term for drinking water, wastewater (sewage) and stormwater (run off from roads and surfaces).

What is the Three Waters Reform?

The Government is proposing to change the way drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services are delivered in New Zealand, changing responsibility for the services from 67 councils to four new regional entities.

Which regional entity would our district belong to?

The Department of Internal Affairs released a map (below) in June 2021 showing the proposed boundaries of the four entities, proposing that our district be included in Entity B, which includes Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Taranaki and parts of Manawatu-Whanganui.

Three waters map showing the four entities

What is changing to drive the need for reform?

It’s fair to say the need for more investment and better regulation in this sector is nothing new. Councils and others have been saying for years that the current model is not sustainable or affordable for many of our communities. Rising Government environmental standards, the potential effects of climate change, iwi co-governance and standards (Te Mana o te Wai), changes to the Resource Management system and the pressures of urban growth are all core drivers of the need for reform.

This year our Council made an assumption in its Long Term Plan that the Government would pay half the bill for upgrading our wastewater treatment plants to meet its new environmental standards, simply because we know it’s unaffordable for our communities to pay for it. Lots of people in our district are already getting by on quite a bit less income than many people in the rest of the country.

Ultimately, success looks the same to all of us. We all want to improve our rivers and waterways, we all want our communities to have access to safe and secure drinking water, we all want to support sustainable growth and development, and we all need new and large investment in our infrastructure to do it.

Does Hauraki District Council support the Government’s proposal?

It’s too early to say. Naturally, there are some strong views from individual councils as this develops, but detailed information from the Government has only recently been provided to us and there’s still a lot of detail we need to understand. It’s also important to recognise that this is the Government’s reform and there are things we can and can’t influence, although we will always advocate for the best wellbeing outcomes for our communities.

Ultimately, we want to reassure our communities that we are looking at all the information carefully and then we will provide opportunities for them to engage in Water Reform discussions. This is the most complex change in local government for 30 years so we need to take our time before making any big decisions, especially when we don’t yet fully understand the data and information from the Government, including its likely impacts on our individual communities now and in the future.

What is the council’s role in the reforms?

While the Government’s reform addresses the national picture, the role of councils is very much to look at the detail on behalf of their individual communities. We’ve only just received the detailed information we need from the Government about the proposed reforms. We’ll be assessing that information over the next eight weeks and providing feedback to the Government through Local Government New Zealand. After 1 October we’ll hear more from the Government and be in a position to determine next steps and any decisions which may need to be made.

What is the role of iwi/Māori in the reforms?

A key building block of any reform will be a partnership approach with iwi, as required by Treaty of Waitangi. The proposed reform is also aimed at delivering the outcomes of Te Mana o te Wai, a set of principles co-designed with iwi/Māori to lift the quality of freshwater. We recognise and support the need for iwi/Māori to be satisfied any reform doesn’t adversely impact existing rights and interests.

Will there be an opportunity for me to have my say?

We will provide opportunities for our communities to engage in water reform discussions as soon as we can. Once we’ve assessed all the information provided by the Government, given our feedback, and heard back from the Government we’ll be in a position to determine next steps and any decisions which may need to be made. At that point, we should have enough understanding of the proposed changes to have some meaningful conversations with our communities. Consulting with our communities before we fully grasp the proposed model and its implications is just likely to create unnecessary confusion.

Will I pay less for water services if the reform goes ahead?

Cost increases for water services are inevitable with or without reform.

Rising Government environmental standards, the potential effects of climate change, iwi standards (Te Mana o te Wai), changes to the Resource Management system and the pressures of urban growth are all core drivers of the need for new and large investment in three waters infrastructure.

However Government projections and councils’ Long Term Plan figures show the infrastructure investment needed could be unaffordable for some households and communities. For instance, this year our Council made an assumption in its Long Term Plan that the Government would pay half the bill for upgrading our wastewater treatment plants to meet its new environmental standards, simply because we know it’s unaffordable for our communities to pay for it. Lots of people in our district are already getting by on quite a bit less income than many people in the rest of the country

Government data and independent analysis indicates that the reform would provide a more-efficient management structure and allow greater borrowing (through the proposed four entities) to help cushion inevitable cost increases for these households and communities.

Has Hauraki District Council accepted the Government’s offer of $15million to join the reforms?

Not yet. The Government’s recently announced funding support package is helpful, but at this stage there is not enough information on what terms apply to it and water is about more than money. This is about what’s best for the environment, local control, iwi, our staff and future growth and development. There are key considerations that need to be taken into account for our district before we decide on a course of action.

We currently own our Three Waters assets, will we still own them under the proposed new model?

The Government has stated its intention that ownership of the Three Waters assets will remain with our communities through the councils.

Will our communities have any influence on decision-making under the proposed new structure?

It’s important to us that under any new structure, iwi, local communities and councils continue to have an effective voice in delivering the outcomes that would best suit their own people. If the reforms do go ahead, we want the Government to engage with our communities and iwi leaders to assure us everyone’s views will be heard and their needs met under the new structure.