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Water woes budget questions pile up

March 12, 2024 March 2024 No Comments

Water supply and wastage are major issues for South Wairarapa District Council (SWDC) and the people of Martinborough, Featherston and Greytown. 

As always, dry summer weather has brought restrictions on household water use and this summer, leaks in the town supply systems are more evident than ever. So what progress is SWDC making?

Recently-released financial data for the half-year ended 31 December 2023 gives some indication. 

But it also raises serious questions about whether SWDC and its water service supplier, Wellington Water Ltd, are anywhere near on top of the issues.

A council Statement of Comprehensive Revenue and Expenses for the half year shows $2,3m in actual operating expenditure on water supply – that is $194,000 less than budgeted for. 

Questions: 

Why is spending even less than budgeted, given the woeful state of town water supply? 

Or, are SWDC and Wellington Water achieving such efficiencies in water supply and in maintaining the town systems that they do not need to spend as much as they had anticipated in setting the budget for 2023-24?

Capital spending on water supply system renewal and improvements was also running well below budget in the half year ended 31 December 2023. 

SWDC’s Statement of Capital Expenditure for the period shows spending of $857,315 – only 20% of the full year (2023-24) availability for capital expenditure on water supply renewal and improvements (the total is $4,198,920). 

Questions: 

Why is SWDC spending less than it has provided for on renewing and improving the systems given their woeful state? 

Or, will there be a huge step-up in capital work during the second half of the year to spend the other $3.34 million on radically reducing the water wastage and ensuring South Wairarapa

households and businesses are receiving safe water that meets the New Zealand Drinking Water Standard?

Whatever is being spend on operations and on capital works, ratepayers and residents will want to know that water supply is actually being upgraded and that SWDC performance on leak repairs and water quality has greatly improved from the situation in 2022-23. 

The Annual Report for that year shows losses in the three towns’ water supply systems climbed to 46% and fault resolution performance was, mostly. well down from prior years and against targets. SWDC reported “not achieved” against its core obligation to “provide reliable and safe drinking water supplies.”

When SWDC adopted its budget for 2023-24 (to end on 30 June this year), it announced that a 19.8% increase in the size of the budget overall was partly “to help bring the water system to a compliant, safe and healthy level.” 

The budget included a 21.3% jump in targeted rates paid by urban ratepayers this year, largely to fund the upgrade in drinking water supply and wastewater systems.

Now SWDC spending against budget for the first half of the year is known, the question is even more pressing for ratepayers and residents: 

Will the jump in targeted water rates, the increased budget and expenditure to date all lead to the much-needed improvement in water supply by the end of 2023-24 and into the next? 

If SWDC now knows this will not be the outcome, will it explain why not?

ends

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