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How do you like your water? Underdone?

May 7, 2024 May 2024 No Comments

Council’s consultation on drinking water, waste and storm water offered local punters three options:

– BAU or Business As Usual at the current level (only adjusted for cost inflation);

– BAU Plus, to allow for some extra maintenance, planning, investigation work and modest resilience;

– High level of investment allows for forward growth planning, investigations and resilience.

Councillor Kaye McAulay sat in on the three groups of residents that considered the South’s water issues, dilemmas and crises.

As each group ended, she asked for a “show of hands” as to which option participants preferred.

The strong preference by 2-to-1was for BAU+ – extra spending above the business-as-usual option. No-one voted for the High level investment option, which came with a price-tag clearly seen as beyond current means and budgets.

As for the option costs, they grew to meet greater ambition by officers to repair, plan and upgrade the current failing systems of the three towns, and settlements like Pirinoa and Ngawi.

One participant noted sagely that the voting preference for BAU+ was likely because the meeting participants were mostly middle class and thus able to accept a higher rating bill than “about half” the district’s ratepayers.

Graphs of the various options showed the costs for the difference options:

– BAU saw the Council’s annual budget increase from $4.78 million (2023-24)  to $5.61 million (2024-25). This figure includes the proposed 15.3 percent percent SWDC rates increase. 

It would see no increase in water investigations or reactive maintenance, small increases in spending on water monitoring, planned maintenance, more work on treatment plants but no more on  management and advisory services or water races.

– BAU+ lifted the proposed budget to $6.63 million, and would require the upcoming rates increase to be set at 19.4 percent. 

This option would triple investigation costs and increase planned and reactive maintenance budgets.

– High level budget rise would lift 2024-25 rates to a total of $7.44 million, an increase of $1.83 million and hike the annual rates increase by 22.3 percent.

Under this option, water investigation costs would rise to around $1.7 million (currently less than $300,000), planned maintenance would more than double, and treatment plant spending would also increase. 

High level would mean “the highest level of investment for planning and resilience,” notes at the meeting explained. No-one publicly supported this plan at the meeting.

Acting mayor Melissa Sadler-Futter emphasised that “discussion points raised today will help point to ‘community themes’ for the planning process. We are not making decisions today.”

She added “in an ideal world, we would continue to increase the level of investment in our water services … but we understand that it is not affordable for most people in the current economic climate. Yes, our infrastructure needs fixing and there are risks associated with not doing more work, but we need to balance how much it costs, with what our communities can pay for.” 

Councillor McAulay said that while SWDC was recommending Option 1 (15.3 percent rates hike) “it’s not the ideal. We are doing it because of the cost and the community. This really isn’t setting ourselves up for (community) growth in the future.”

Partnerships and Operations manager Stefan Corbett advised the “first thing to work on (at the stickered Martinborough waste water plant) is to desludge the ponds (which have not been desludged since opening 51 years ago) to provide room in the ponds to make them work.”

Greater Wellington Regional Council removed some operating consent from the ponds because of overloading discharge. SWDC is talking of another 18 months for the system to be back fully operating and with new household connections available.

“The current work on the ponds only allows for current levels” of conection, treatment and discharge, Corbett added.

“Our attention is now focused on waste water, that’s the priority and we have action going on in three different towns, while doing small things in resilience,” he said.

This also included reducing tap water use per household and “moving on small tanks for households,” though there is “no government funding for water.”

McAulay warned that under BAU/Option 1 “there is no resilience.”  

Corbett expanded: “There are no emergency works, nothing for reactive maintenance or for the planning and investigative work for the future” improvement and upgrading of the plants.

But Option 2 (BAU+) and 3 (High level investment) would “mean more planning, system growth studies, development, more maintenance on the network.”

As the Martinborough consultation ended Sadler-Futter noted the discussion would “form a valuable part of our (council’s) deliberations.

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