Broken water systems need an urgent fix

Civil Contractors New Zealand chief executive Peter Silcock says bold action was needed to implement the detailed solutions mapped out by recent studies under Three Waters Reform Programme to tackle the massive scale of the systemic issues facing its water networks.

This would ensure better health, wellbeing and environmental outcomes than continuing under the status quo, which it was clear would lead to a downward spiral, Silcock says.

“It is vital we take bold and visionary action as soon as is practical. If we do not, many parts of the country will see a further decline in drinking water quality, worsening pollution of our waterways and marine environment and increased risk from extreme weather events.”

The comments were made as recent reports from the Department of Internal Affairs’ Three Waters Reform Programme confirm New Zealand is in desperate need of long-term solutions to the funding and administrative pressures the country’s water networks face.

In addition to changing administrative structures, more maintenance, better network assessment, more new water infrastructure and improvements to existing infrastructure were essential activities to shift New Zealand from a downward spiral as aging water assets reached end-of-life.

Now that detailed proposals exploring not just the issues but also mapping out solutions were emerging, a clear vision providing foresight for future generations was required, Silcock says.

Peter Silcock. Civil Contractors New Zealand chief executive

“As the body representing those who do the work on the ground to construct and maintain our water infrastructure, we want to see the change required to ensure we have healthy drinking water and cleaner waterways. Our members see the need every day.”

Silcock says the reports presented detailed information that clearly demonstrated not just of the scale of the problem and a clear need for change, but also the possible solutions and what a new high-water mark might look like.

The four reports identified investment of between $120b and $185b was needed over the next 30 years to ensure New Zealanders’ drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure met acceptable public health and environmental standards.

The analysis was undertaken by the Water Industry Commission for Scotland (WICS). Two further reports by Farrierswier and Beca provide assurance of the WICS approach and its relevance for New Zealand, while an economic impact report produced by Deloitte shows the reforms may result in a net increase in GDP by $14b to $23b over 30 years.

The WICS analysis showed that amalgamating water administration to between one and four entities would provide the greatest opportunities for scale efficiencies and related benefits such as improved levels of service, more access to expertise and more affordable household bills when compared against the likely outcomes ‘without reform’.

The reports also highlighted how the national water infrastructure reforms would create an extra 5900 – 9300 jobs countrywide between 2022 and 2051, providing meaningful career opportunities in the construction and maintenance of the country’s vital water networks.

The full reports are available at the at