Three Waters: Government reform concessions for Clutha rural water systems welcome

Tuapeka Rural Water Scheme Chairman Roger Cotton sees hope in the recent Three Waters reform concessions won by the government on rural water supply in Clutha. Photo/Richard Davison

“They listened to us.”

Operators say recent government concessions for Clutha’s rural water supply systems are a big step in the right direction.

In a July 26 letter to Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan, Three Waters Reform Executive Director Hamiora Bowkett said mixed-use projects such as those in Clutha should be allowed to “directly own and operate the project, independently of the water services entity”.

Such an arrangement would depend on acceptance of the proposal by 75% of users and a “robust assessment of the factors associated with the independent operation of the system”.

Cadogan was the chair of the technical working group on rural supplies during the recent consultation on the reforms.

The group proposed 73 changes to the reforms, some of which the government now appears willing to adopt.

Tuapeka Rural Water Scheme Chairman Roger Cotton praised Cadogan’s efforts, saying rural water users in the district got what they were asking for.

Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan.  Photo/Richard Davison
Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan. Photo/Richard Davison

“To be fair, Bryan Cadogan has done a really good job of engaging with those managing the Three Waters transition and allowing us to explain why Clutha is quite unique in the way our water systems work.

“These are mixed-use systems, where 90% is for stock use, but they also supply people in the area, as well as some supply to rural towns.”

The 12 systems in the district serve 1,842 urban users and 4,860 rural users – approximately 35% of the district’s 19,000 population.

“Collectively, we wanted the choice of going private, or going Entity D, and centralizing ownership and management.

“And they listened to us.”

He said much remained to be done and the programs would now seek outside advice to help formulate viable options by December 22, which users could then decide on.

“It’s quite easy to just say ‘stuff the government, we’re going to do whatever we want’, and I can relate to that.

“But we have to be open-minded and objective and look at this in a way that allows us to go to our consumers and say, ‘Here is Entity D and how it’s run, and it has these benefits and these disadvantages, and this is the privatization model, and here are the consequences”.

Cotton said he sees challenges with each option.

“If we go into Entity D, we lose that local governance and knowledge. Christchurch is a long way from Tuapeka,” he said.

“If we go private, all that local input is retained, but there may be issues along the way with the personal liability of system operators, if something like Havelock were to happen, for example.

“At the end of the day, we all want safe drinking water, we all want a guaranteed supply for our stock and we all want to comply with regulations. Now we have the opportunity to decide how best to achieve this.”

Cadogan said the concessions vindicated his board’s approach to reforms.

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