Who protects us from water companies?

Written By: - Date published: 8:00 am, August 10th, 2018 - 78 comments
Categories: capitalism, Environment, labour, national, same old national, sustainability, water - Tags:

Who protects us from water companies?

No one.

New Zealand seriously needs a water regulator. Something that will show that each catchment can withstand having that much taken out of it, and that it is being sold for a fair price, and ensures everyone has access to beautiful-quality water.

At the moment there is no guarantee or proof of any of that on any coherent basis.

We’ve now got a legacy from the National government of a series of water irrigation companies who are a law unto themselves.

We’ve got the dairy industry problem.

And we’ve got the fact that local governments  – apart from a few – are out of their depth dealing with it.

It’s about as unregulated as housing.

RNZ looked into public water governance and management issue, and showed that the small local councils simply can’t keep up with the cost of the infrastructure now.

 

Last year the Hamilton and Waipa Councils proposed forming a shared water management company. After millions of dollars of unanimous findings, Waipa voted it down.

From the release of the Havelock North report into drinking water, the Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta want on a fact-finding trip to Scotland and Ireland to see how they manage fresh water.  The Minister is building on the Havelock North water report, and the Department of Internal Affairs Three Waters Review as well.

 

Our government already massively subsidises water infrastructure for small councils. Particularly given that some of them generate grossly unhealthy water for their citizens.

Scotland has a system that covers the whole of Scotland. It’s different to OFWAT, which is the water and sewerage regulator for England and Wales – I’m not sure OFWAT recognise climate change exists yet.

 

The Scottish water industry has a public body to manage the regulatory framework across the entire industry. They act independently of Ministers. They set the prices right across the place after lots of consultation. They also monitor and report on Scottish Water’s performance in customer service, investment, costs, and leakage.

Minister Mahuta has been looking at how much Scotland spent to amalgamate water services, what challenges the authorities faces, what solutions they faced and any efficiencies gained.

She’s not proposing wholesale re-nationalisation. But I’d expect it would make sense if what we ended up was something in which each water entity was covering all of a regional council area, or all of a District Health Board are

Maybe something like the Electricity Commission, with some add-ons.

I’d want it to have power over both public and private water companies. It would also make sense if we had a water regulator like the Electricity Commission that also had a compliance function such as a Regional Health Director – I’m sorry it’s pretty hard to have confidence in the prosecuting power of regional councils on water. Also we need an entity that ensured that water supply and minimum prices went to actual citizens first in times of drought – not to industry. And personally I’d want something that regulated executive pay for water companies – I’m asking a lot I know, but their awesome salaries come out of my water bill.

While I’m at it, some way of recognising and enforcing Article 2 of the Treaty of Waitangi to reflect water being a taonga. Minister Parker has just set up Kahui Wai Maori – the Maori fresh water forum to help stabilise expectations in this area.

 

That’s a whole lot more useful than threatening litigation before anyone’s done anything.

 

Front and centre there will be the allocation of nutrient discharges. Yup, dairy. And sewerage generally.

Local councils will complain about lack of democratic accountability if large water entity mergers are pushed. Electricity companies and Federated Farmers and the Water Users Group and water industry advocates will tell us the sky is about to fall in. I could not give a damn. The water industry is simply making bank like … like a bank, and no one has the power to hold them to account on it.

This shit needs sorting.

We should expect to see the first results come out of Cabinet in late October.

78 comments on “Who protects us from water companies?”

  1. Blazer 1

    A Capital idea there.
    Still like to see a levy on all exported water though.
    There must be an equitable way of handling this.

    Water is more valuable than oil or gold and we are blessed with abundance.

    • Gosman 1.1

      You are aware that when we export any agricultural product we are essentially exporting Water aren’t you?

      • Dv 1.1.1

        Yes and the water in th product is paid for.

      • Robert Guyton 1.1.2

        And when we import foods were are importing water. Like yours, Gosman, a pointless claim. You’re mostly water, so water ownership should worry you intensely. Etc.

      • dukeofurl 1.1.3

        Milk powder has the water removed. For most milk products there is too much water in fresh milk.
        I hear they will move to more jerseys and opposed to friesans , as the ‘brown cows’ produce a higher proportion of milkfat/volume.

    • AsleepWhileWalking 1.2

      Water is the new gold alright.

      Isn’t it just like our govt to piss it away. Next we will be paying for our own resource.

  2. Gosman 2

    Why can’t you use the democratic process to achieve the same thing within the current system?

    Local councils that are too small can agree to merge their Water management processes with other bodies under the auspices of a wider Regional Authority.

    • Stuart Munro 2.1

      “Why can’t you use the democratic process to achieve the same thing within the current system?”

      Because of deliberate obstruction from people like you – scofflaws, autocrats and resource thieves.

      • Gosman 2.1.1

        Translation: I’m not able to articulate a persuasive enough argument to get my ideas accepted by enough people to pass through the democratic process.

    • AsleepWhileWalking 2.2

      Kaipara.

  3. Obtrectator 3

    Given the importance of whisky to Scotland’s economy – and hence a clean and unadulterated water supply for making it – you bet they’d be taking water management seriously over there. Good on ’em.

  4. mac1 4

    A friend of mine and I were walking up the hill yesterday, overlooking premium wine country and discussing the Australian drought. He postulated the idea that we would do better selling our water overseas rather than selling it as milk, or ……. well he didn’t go so far as to say wine, or beer.

    Less environmental damage, far less wastage.

    Comments?

    • Stuart Munro 4.1

      It’s not viable long term.

      Our water is desirable because of the characteristics of the aquifers. Draw them down and the quality becomes no better than membrane desalinated or otherwise purified water. And the carbon footprint isn’t great either. Better we should export solar stills or desalinators with a decent working life.

      • mac1 4.1.1

        Thanks, Stuart Munro.

      • dukeofurl 4.1.2

        We dont sell the water content in milk- its mostly removed , we are selling the grass the cows eat.
        And then there is value added, the reason wine and milk powder/cheese is much more valuable than bottled water

  5. [ ” I’d want it to have power over both public and private water companies. It would also make sense if we had a water regulator like the Electricity Commission that also had a compliance function such as a Regional Health Director – I’m sorry it’s pretty hard to have confidence in the prosecuting power of regional councils on water. Also we need an entity that ensured that water supply and minimum prices went to actual citizens first in times of drought – not to industry. And personally I’d want something that regulated executive pay for water companies – I’m asking a lot I know, but their awesome salaries come out of my water bill ” ].

    Hear , hear !

    So at risk of being a stuck record, – it was fine before the ‘troubles’ of 1984 .

  6. bwaghorn 6

    The crown needs to sort out water ownership with Maori before it’s worth spending time/money on regulation . The nats his from it so this govs going to have to step up . Good luck

    • dukeofurl 6.1

      We have water ownership now . Its a public good in that we all own it but no one has exclusive rights to water

      • Ad 6.1.1

        Not true on several levels.

        We went through this debate prior to the election concerning water pricing.

        • dukeofurl 6.1.1.1

          Thats because you are confused over 2 separate things.
          Free running water from rivers creeks and streams and its water quality issues which are rightly of some concern,
          Drinking water which is taken from dams, rivers, artesian bores and then ( mostly) treated and then reticulated to the users – and often in many cases the waste water which is taken away by pipes and treated. This water is quite rightly charged for especially if the fresh water price includes the waste water disposal costs

          • Ad 6.1.1.1.1

            Yes they are distinct. But they are integrated as catchments for water sources, and neither are well regulated. And of course they all resolve downstream as the one water again.

            So it’s the foolish separation of stormwater and water-gathering and wastewater treatment that is at the heart of poor water regulation in New Zealand. Which is precisely what the post is about.

            We see this false splitting it its most absurd form in Auckland, in which stormwater is controlled by Auckland Council, and water gathering and treatment by Watercare. And yet Watercare controls the largest stormwater catchment areas in the region.

            So they are currently billed separately, and neither are price regulated.

            There is no one able to calculate a reasonable price for either because there are no national benchmarks, and no regulator. Not an ACCC equivalent, not an OFWAT, not anyone.

            This is the kind of disaggregated thinking and management that the Minister is going after.

            • dukeofurl 6.1.1.1.1.1

              Thats because.
              Rivers are different standards to the drinking water that comes out of my tap. That has to be that way.

              Stormwater is controlled by Auckland Council and Fresh and waste water by Watercare.
              Have you ever noticed why they are all in separate pipes ? ( some very old systems will have storm and wastewater combined which is a nightmare)

              You really are confused about this whole thing.
              Watercare catchments are quite small and are ‘closed’ to ensure the ‘freshness’ outside of natural contaminants.

              • Ad

                You have simply repeated the Auckland Council management system without adding anything.

                You are not familiar with water, stormwater, or wastewater pricing or the elements that go into it. You have not proposed how any of the water entities in New Zealand justify their water prices nationally, to deliver a consistent quality product for all the different end users.
                – How do irrigators price
                – How do water bottlers price
                – How do industrial wastewater users get priced?
                – If separating wastewater and stormwater is so important, by what mechanism would pipes separation be justified and separated? Mayor Goff would love to hear your answer to pushing Watercare to accelerating Central Interceptor.

                And as for quality, after over a century of local government, the smaller centres can’t get it together.

                Few catchments are fenced off. A few are, but Auckland’s water storage has been completely open until recently due to Kauri Dieback. Dunedin’s is a set of walking tracks around Ross Creek. A few lucky others get turned into reserves for wildlife.
                There were plenty of further examples in the post to engage with adequately.

                • dukeofurl

                  “If separating wastewater and stormwater is so important, by what mechanism would pipes separation be justified and separated? Mayor Goff would love to hear your answer to pushing Watercare to accelerating Central Interceptor.”

                  if you lived in Auckland you would know about the constant overflows mostly form the few parts of the city with a combined system.
                  Simply put , stormwater overwhelms the wastewater system which then discharges to streams and beaches. A pretty good reason for separation dont you think.
                  It doesnt need ‘justification’ , its not the 1930s anymore , we are way past justifying it and into the getting it done phase. Goff would say Council/ Watercare are at their borrowing limit which prevents ‘acceleration’. I would tell him to ditch the Americas cup and start this sooner.

                  The separation is not directly linked to the central interceptor- a backbone trunk sewer- compared to separation which is a street by street case where new pipes are installed either for SW or sewage to separate them. That is an ongoing thing . I remember about 10 years back being involved with a house in Ponsonby where the street separation stopped just before the house, but luckily they could access a sewer over the back fence – with neighbours permission.

                  • Ad

                    Fully agree with the reasons for separation of sewerage and stormwater networks. Central Interceptor enables the separation of a lot of the historical ones.

                    But again to the point of the post, there are no price signals to push Watercare one way or the other.

                    Nor are there any with which to push Auckland Council in stormwater.

                    And yet they are owned by the same people.

                    There are no governance instruments available to push it along – which is what the Minsiter is getting to addressing.

                    Historically this shit (literally) should have been sorted decades ago. The reason it’s getting done is only because Watercare decided to – merely by presenting its Asset Management Plan to Auckland Council. There’s been tonnes of citizen pressure – and yet it’s still got years before CI’s effects are in place.

                    • dukeofurl

                      Well there is the other little problem….

                      Auckland has grown by the equivalent of Wellington ( 490k people) in the last 20 years

                      The stormwater isnt really an issue in most places. The reality is in heavy rain its designed to overflow.
                      I think its best to keep that away from the drinking water/ wastewater disposal which is Watercare.

                      Up till the super city the street by street end of stormwater/drinking water/wastewater was one entity controlled by each council . Watercare was the wholesale end.

      • Ian 6.1.2

        I have a resource consent that gives me a right to take groundwater for irrigation. Just renewed it for another 15 years. Comes with a lot of conditions attached and the water is just passing through.I don’t own it.

  7. Mac1 Sell water, instead of milk beer wine etc. In glass? Not plastic.

  8. Minister Mahuta must feel water is her Albatross.

    Under H.Clark it was fore shore and seabed, now under J.Adern, fresh water quality.

    Water is an essential. Water is a necessity. Let us hope we can find a solution soon, or our water will be as bad as China’s air quality.

    As with everything, there will have to be compromise… you know “sharing” the resource.

    Many Councils and water suppliers have very old infrastructure.. a growing problem, which will be a huge expense.

    If traders can sell cans of “Fresh” air, selling our “Fresh” water should be a doddle if we wanted that. Perhaps that is how the systems and infrastructure costs could be paid.

  9. dukeofurl 9

    “It’s about as unregulated as housing.”

    really ?
    http://www.drinkingwater.esr.cri.nz/general/standards.asp

    This site is run by the ESR Water Information Systems team, a mix of scientists and information systems people based in Christchurch, New Zealand, and performing science-based drinking water work under contract to the Ministry of Health.

    yes the monitoring could be better , but unregulated ? NO

    • Ad 9.1

      Didnt claim it was unregulated.

    • Graeme 9.2

      It’s more that the regulation is spread over many entities, Regional and District Councils, along with MOH and DHBs. Then you get Iwi, DOC and Fish & Game having an input as well.

      I’ve just been through a consent renewal and it was a mish mash of entities that weren’t really working together all that well.

      I can see a lot of merit in a single national entity doing the job.

      • dukeofurl 9.2.1

        Different things.
        we have different entities and standards for ships , trains , trucks & cars and planes.

        Water is the same . Drinking water is a whole different thing to rivers/lakes.
        Stormwater runoff is not the same as sewage disposal and treatment and we really dont want to mix the two !
        Then there is agricultural runoff, different again.

  10. SPC 10

    This is related to

    1. reform of how council infrastructure is funded (to get around debt caps).
    2. the “Shane Jones” provincial investment fund
    3. water quality regulation
    4. a national water body to invest in, manage and or provide oversight to provincial water supply (see 2 and 3).
    5. Maori claims
    6. royalty on water exports.

  11. Draco T Bastard 11

    She’s not proposing wholesale re-nationalisation.

    Pity.

    I’d want it to have power over both public and private water companies.

    Private water companies need to be canned. Water is far too important for it to be left in private control.

    I’m sorry it’s pretty hard to have confidence in the prosecuting power of regional councils on water.

    Especially when they have a propensity of not prosecuting farmers when they’ve obviously broken the law many times in the same way and have been caught every time.

    This shit needs sorting.

    Water is very, very important to life and that means that it needs serious regulation and be in government control. It cannot be left to the private profiteers as they’ll just take it all for their enrichment leaving many without and doing serious damage to our environment.

    • Robert Guyton 11.1

      The Government should control water?
      Really?
      Who in the Government understands water?

      • Draco T Bastard 11.1.1

        Who in the Government understands water?

        The universities do pretty decent research on it.

    • Robert Guyton 11.2

      “Water is very, very important to life”
      Agreed.
      And Government should adjudicate on its use? The Key Government? The Lange Government? The English Government, The Ardern Government? The Collins Government?

    • SPC 11.3

      Is New Zealand in the position to take a centralised ownership control of water supply (FTA’s/WTO)?

      There are various structures – privately owned and charging for use and local council owned which charge or do not charge. A problem could occur where a foreign party is involved in ownership.

      Taking over council owned water bodies is one way for government to refinance local government – paying for the asset taken and then taking over the cost of supply responsibility.

      • dukeofurl 11.3.1

        “There are various structures – privately owned and charging for use and local council owned which charge or do not charge”

        Privately owned ? Where.
        I understand councils charge for water/ wastewater either by metering or a flat charge on rates

          • dukeofurl 11.3.1.1.1

            That was useful.
            Still didnt mention anyplace with ‘private schemes’. In small areas the water supply comes via the roof and a rainwater tank and the sewage is a septic tank.
            I would love to know where there is a reticulated system that is privately owned.
            Excluding of course those places for personal use

            • David Mac 11.3.1.1.1.1

              We have a little private company in our neighbourhood supplying water to about 500 homes. I believe they do it with a bore, pumps, filtration, tank farm, pipes, meters. Retails for about $3 a cubic metre, billed bi-monthly. Their income stream extends far beyond mains water supply. Quite a few in their catchment area are on tank water or both.

              https://www.doubtlessbaywater.com/

              • dukeofurl

                Thats great. exactly the info I was after.

              • Graeme

                How well does that work?

                Interesting seeing a closely held, completely private company owning, and operating a supply to what would be a pretty close community.

                Be interested to know the back story and how they balance commercial and community responsibilities.

                • David Mac

                  It seems to work quite well Graeme. It’s owned by a guy and his wife, I’ve heard locals ribbing him a bit, having a go at his monopoly status, but I got the feeling that the same people would be saying ‘Bloody Council’ if that’s where their water came from.

                  People round me aren’t used to paying for it….sort of. An installed tank $5000, pump $500, filtration $500, plumbing $1000….that money would buy a lifetime supply of the town water stuff with no ‘uh-oh tank’s low’ hassles. In our frequent droughts, a truckload of water is about $350.

                  Different story if renting: A conserved tank = free water. If renting a house hooked up to Doubtless Bay Water, about $40 a month for a couple. Landlord pays the Service Fee, tenant for the cubic metres consumed.

                  I believe the chap has access to a natural spring/bore. The water is not fabulous. It’s hard, marks glass showers and leaves calcium spots in dishwashers etc. I’m not sure how he has access, if he pays anyone etc. I’m not sure if there is legislation inhibiting him from sending his customers a letter tomorrow ‘Bad News everyone, the price is doubling.’ He is in a bit of a Monty Burns position, pay whatever he says or spend $8k on less than ideal infrastructure: finite tank supply etc.

                  I’m sure a big bit of their income is the add-ons. Up to the meter is his problem, a leak on the house side of the meter is a bill for the owner. They install tanks, drill bores, run plumbing between cattle troughs etc.

                  • David Mac

                    This from the ‘About Us’ on their website.

                    Doubtless Bay Water Supply Co Ltd (DBWS) is a privately owned Public Water Supply Company. DBWS is a Network Utility Operator with Requiring Authority – registered with the Ministry for the Environment.
                    The company began operation in 1985, and supplies water to customers in Mangonui, Coopers Beach, Cable Bay, Taipa and Oruru. DBWS office and workshop facilities are situated at 157 Cable Bay Block Rd in Coopers Beach.
                    Water is sourced from three places, Mangonui, Taipa, and Oruru. All water is filtered, treated, and safe for consumption, and is monitored under the New Zealand drinking water standards.

                    • dukeofurl

                      yes . It seems not be essential to use their supply but optional instead of a roof tank. Some use both.
                      Doesnt seem to be archetype of private ‘Big water’

                    • David Mac

                      Yeah, I like small businesses. It’s good to be able to go and knock on the door of the guy that lives where the buck stops.

                      While robots are sewing on shirt buttons (Thank God for that) we could be creating small businesses out of utility supply. Dave Mac Power might have 6 turbines in the creek and 20 customers.

                    • Graeme

                      One of my many hats is managing a small water scheme down here. It serves 14 properties ranging from 32 ha down to 3500 m2. It provides irrigation as well as domestic supply. The scheme is set up as a co-operative company so shareholders have to be subscribers and shareholdings are proportional to area (sort of). I’m just the manager and not a shareholder.

                      The structure is working pretty well after about 6 years. Prior to that it was quite informal and with the potential for total disfunctionality that water schemes can have. There’s one down the road that has been WW III for as long as anyone can remember.

                      There’s another quite large irrigation scheme in the Whakatipu that is a simple company with shares held by the larger users, with others on supply contracts. Again this works quite well but isn’t domestic supply.

                      The Doubtless Bay scheme looks quite neat, but looks to rely on the community moderating the commercial imperatives. Ownership succession could be interesting for the community if it isn’t to someone with the same values.

                    • David Mac

                      Yes, I’m not sure what protects the community from DBWS being bought out by ‘World Water Inc.’ That could be less than ideal. They do say “DBWS is a Network Utility Operator with Requiring Authority – registered with the Ministry for the Environment.” Hopefully the regulation they comply with would safeguard against such an outcome.

                      When I lived at Piha, the residents of North Piha had a water co-op. A dam in the hills behind, piped down to households. It was managed by someone like you. They were paid a retainer to keep an eye on the pumps, filtration, pipes etc.

      • Draco T Bastard 11.3.2

        Is New Zealand in the position to take a centralised ownership control of water supply (FTA’s/WTO)?

        Probably not but that could be used as a good issue to help drop those failed ideological tools.

        There’s a very good reason why people are getting upset with corporations simply taking water and the local having no say about it.

      • greywarshark 11.3.3

        NZ needs to have locally controlled public water (with legal requirements and penalties), and central government as a control to stop it being sold or misused/

        Put it all in central government’s hands and the power will drive them crazy. We have seen how they will do the dirty on the people from Douglas’s time et al. I will never trust the buggers as I used to. But they have to be able to do some things. But then that hasn’t been great for Environment Canterbury so i don’t know who is the gamekeeper and who the poacher.

  12. Robert Guyton 12

    Water is a solvent.

  13. JessNZ 13

    Water is definitely undervalued in NZ.

    A national plan should also promote rooftop water collection in urban areas instead of pushing all homeowners onto reticulated systems – a win win for supplying water and keeping excess rainwater from pouring over non-permeable surfaces every storm.

  14. greywarshark 14

    Good one Ad. Good idea. Let’s do it now, not wait for a committee set up at great expense to gush forth in a year’s time with platitudes or something we know now.

  15. Chris 15

    Why should anyone be able to sell water anyway? Particularly overseas. Why would we want to allow that?

    • dukeofurl 15.1

      Because they use artesian water which literally will run out to sea in most cases.

      Have you never bought a bottle of softdrink/mineral water , because thats the same thing except they add sugar syrup and colouring.

      So maybe you have answered your own question

  16. David Mac 16

    Bottled water is a bizarre business model. Bottling, Packaging, distribution, marketing, refrigeration, profit overheads: $2 a bottle. Actual product cost: Less than a cent.

  17. Philj 17

    Who would you distrust more? The private corporation or the Government? I used to distrust the Corporation more, nowadays I’m not so sure.

    • David Mac 17.1

      I trust both in some circumstances but wish to depend on neither because everybody in either organisation is either not responsible for outcomes or untouchable. Size does that, the people with the least to lose do the best, flies in the face of nature.

      The guy supplying 500 households with water, employing 5 guys with young families, funding his pending retirement. He wants to leave a business with a fine reputation to his son, he cares.

    • Obtrectator 17.2

      You could trust the government, if only the whole matter of water management could be depoliticised (just as electricity and superannuation ought to be as well).

      But that seems to be a big “if”. Too big for the current party-political set-up.

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