It’s a shame that enjoyment of a great run of summer sunshine is being shaded by the prospect of tougher water restrictions. But hats off to those who are leaving the car unwashed, taking shorter showers, leaving frugal hosing of plants until the cool of early morning or evening, and other measures to conserve what’s in the storage lakes.
Hardly surprising people’s hackles are up over pleas for restraint when everyone can see water leaking across footpaths from broken council pipes and faulty tobies. But recognition is growing that resource and workforce limits mean leaks need to be triaged and priority given to the worst of them – not always the ones that are most visible.
In Hutt City alone, 1545 leaks were fixed in the last six months of 2023. HCC is forecasting a $6.5 million spend this financial year for Wellington Water to tackle leaks but it’s a bit like whack-a-mole. No sooner is one leak fixed that another, quite often nearby, pops up.
So renewal of aged pipes is also vital. In 2022/23 HCC invested $72m on this, compared to $28m the year before. For the coming Long-Term (10-year) Plan, it’s proposed $300m be spent on water, sewage and stormwater upgrades in the first three years.
Trouble is, in large parts of the city (e.g. Naenae, Wainuiomata) pipe networks were all developed around the same time in the 1950s and ’60s, so a significant bow wave of works is upon us. This is amplified by asbestos cement pipes used widely in the 1960’s and ’70s failing earlier than their design life.
You as ratepayers have stepped up. In each of the past two years around 15km of pipelines have been renewed in our city, compared to an average of 4km for the previous five years.
Unfortunately, renewals need to increase to around 30kms for each of the next 30 years to address the backlog and deal with those parts of the network coming to the end of their useful life. Ratepayers simply can’t afford this on their own when there are also transport, climate change and other challenges.
We’re staring at a potential rates increase of 15.9% in the year starting July 1 – 40% of it relating to three waters. Labour’s 3 Waters restructure was rejected by a majority of voters; now we need to know from National how its alternative solutions will work, given council debt ceilings. One useful step would be for central government to return to local government the GST paid on rates (a tax on a tax!).
There’s no doubt in my mind water meters will have to be part of the mix going forward if we’re to avoid eking out future summers on water supply tenterhooks.
I’ve seen in social media some people suggest that because infrastructure is struggling HCC shouldn’t allow new housing, as if we could somehow put gates on city entrances and tell developers “we’re full up”.
Fact is, owners of those new units have paid a development contribution of anything from $6,500 to $22,000 to offset the growth component we build into new infrastructure. The houses must have tanks to hold and slowly release stormwater, and for future-proofing the draft District Plan requires new-builds to incorporate rainwater and greywater capture and use systems.