Who protects us from water companies?
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.