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Latest News / Councils face big costs for farms' tiny water supply 'schemes'

Councils face big costs for farms' tiny water supply 'schemes'

15th November 2019 – STUFF

 

An over-reaction to the Havelock North water contamination outbreak stands to cost councils.

OPINION: News out of Wellington of the formation of a dedicated water watchdog that will set standards and have monitoring and enforcement powers following the Havelock North water contamination is welcomed by local government.

However, as with any time a pendulum swings back, we need to be cautious of the pace and the degree of reaction to an event that absolutely should never have happened.

It is a sad reality that there is an inherent risk to any untreated water supply, no matter how clean and green we like to think New Zealand is, and it is long-overdue that central Government made efforts to ensure that the almost-voluntary drinking water standards we have are enforced.

But in one aspect, the pendulum is swinging far too far back to be sensible and that is in relation to small supplies.

Currently any supply which serves 25 people or more must be registered and is then monitored by the drinking water assessor.

Under the new proposals all suppliers apart from individual households that have their own sources will need to comply with the new regulatory requirements.

What that means in an on-the-ground sense is that a farmhouse that currently gets water from a bore, rain-water tanks or a creek, that then runs a pipe to a couple of workers' cottages is exempt but, under the new proposal, will be deemed a water scheme.

There has been some suggestion that each of these micro-operations will need to have three-stage water treatment - filtration, chlorination and ultra-violet treatment.

Such set-ups are not cheap to install and not simple to run, especially at the level of compliance one can envisage a regulator will require.

And here's where this proposal should concern everyone. Under the concept that is being floated, if a water supply scheme (remember that is one house feeding another) is deemed unable to afford or incapable of running the scheme, the onus will fall on the local council.

In Central Otago, there are hundreds of these "schemes", meaning hundreds of thousands of potential dollars in costs to us all.

So, let's go back to the problem; being the risk of contaminated water.

Risk lies in all things in life, and there is obviously good sense in managing risk, particularly when this relates to public safety and health.

But what this idea seems like to me is an effort to eliminate almost all risk.

I totally support treatment of water in town supplies where 25 or more people can be adversely affected if things go wrong.

But the cost-benefit balance of addressing the risk in small operations that only serve a couple of properties at potentially massive expense to the ratepayer is, to my mind, an over-reaction to what happened in Havelock North.

On another matter; we have finally got some census data to work with, and it makes very interesting reading.

I love it when preconception comes crashing up against the cruel rocks of hard data, because suddenly new truths emerge.

Take the population make-up of Central Otago, and in particular the demographic composition of the district.

Certainly we have grown, and at a hell of a pace. In terms of year-on-year annual growth between the 2013 census and 2018 census, across the country only Queenstown Lakes (6.8 per cent) and Selwyn (6.3 per cent) topped our 3.8  per cent. Waitaki District was 1.4 per cent and south of the Waitaki itself, no other territorial authority came in over 1 per cent.

Another fun fact. At the 2006 census, Alexandra was the biggest town in Central, with a population of 4824. In the 12 years since that census, more people (4914) than lived in Alexandra at that time have moved to the district.

But it is the make-up of the population now that has challenged a lot of people's preconceptions.

For many, the thought is that the growth has come from elderly people retiring here. While there is no doubt that many are, to think the growth is limited to 65+ folk is proven plainly wrong in the data.

In the under 15 age group and the 29-64 group, we are one of around 10 territorial authorities (there are 64) to have over 10 per cent growth. But it is the crucial 15-29 demographic where the surprise might come to some, as we are one of only six to have over 30 per cent growth, which outstrips the 20 per cent-plus growth in what many would expect to be the big crew, being the 65+ group.

That surge in younger population bodes extremely well for the future of this great place.

Tim Cadogan is the Central Otago district mayor. 

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