Hutt is stepping up on water leak challenge

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. 

How many councillors, community boards?

How many councillors should we have?  Is it fair that some parts of the city have community boards, but others don’t?  Should we stick with the current wards/ward boundaries or should be they changed to reflect different ‘communities of interest’?

Local authorities in New Zealand are required to review their elected representation arrangements at least every six years.  Hutt City Council is due to conduct such a review before the 2025 election.

Current councillors at a visit to the Koraunui Hub in Stokes Valley earlier this year.
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Where are we at with Three Waters?

For the average Kiwi, the questions they want answered by MPs and parties jostling for their votes probably revolve around the cost of living, tax fairness, housing, the environment, law & order.

The result of the October election will also herald which way central government moves on issues key to councils: Three Waters and RMA reform, transport funding, the National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity (‘significant natural areas’) and even whether we’re going to see another round of local government restructuring/amalgamations.

Mandated Three Waters restructuring – or not – is a big one. 

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Creaking infrastructure gobbling up dollars

If any doubt remained over the challenges of failing Three Waters infrastructure in the Hutt (and wider in the region), latest water loss data from Wellington Water (WW) surely drowns it.

It’s an issue that throws sharp focus on the different Three Waters proposals of Labour and National as we head to the polls in October. (See ‘Where did we get to on 3 Waters reform?’)

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Fly-tippers give two-fingered salute to ratepayers

Fly-tipping is an affront to our environment – and to ratepayers forced to pick up the bill.

Hutt River Ranger Joby Mills reports that in the year to June 2023 there have been scores of cases of rubbish dumped along Te Awakairangi, diverting council staff from pest control, planting and other community tasks and costing $113,000 to deal with. 

A page from the GWRC report to councillors.

Two or three times a week he’s coming across household rubbish, piles of old tyres, broken ovens, mattresses, even offal and commercial waste such as pallets and broken up concrete.

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Gabrielle was a warning

If we needed a reminder of how vital the Riverlink project is to Lower Hutt, Cyclone Gabrielle delivered it in February.

The flooding triggered by intense rainfall – well over 400mm in some parts of Tairāwhiti and Hawke’s Bay – engulfed homes and businesses and swept away infrastructure. Eleven people died.  The properties of half the population of Wairoa were inundated when the Wairoa River breached stopbanks.

The warning from the regional council’s Manager Flood Protection, Graeme Campbell, in April was stark: If that cyclone had hit Lower Hutt, existing central city stopbanks would not have coped.  Even with the higher, wider stopbanks planned under Riverlink, we might only have escaped a breach by the skin of our teeth.

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Calls for Hutt ‘referendum’ on 3 Waters

A number of residents have emailed councillors asking for a referendum on the government’s proposed 3 Waters reform. This is how I replied to them:

Just by way of quick re-cap on Hutt City Council actions to date.  When last year the four new water service entities were proposed, we had legal advice that as a Council we could not ‘opt in’ or ‘opt out’ on such a crucial issue without formal consultation with our residents.  We waited to see the final form of the proposals so that we could do that consultation, and perhaps even hold a referendum.   Then came the disappointing news the government had decided to make the reforms mandatory. 

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New density rules put Hutt’s nuanced approach in the shade

by Cr Simon Edwards

While it’s surprising – and very welcome – to see Labour and National look past the usual political manoeuvering and show co-operation on a thorny issue, their recent announcement on housing density has significant downsides for the Hutt.  

Can’t fault the motivation behind the Resource Management (Enabling Housing Supply and other Matters) Amendment Bill. By any account, we’re tens of thousands of houses short in New Zealand and sky-high accommodation costs are a drag on the economy and many Kiwis’ lives.   

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Te Awa Kairangi thrown into the pool with the rest of ‘Water Entity C’

With the government’s decision to make the 3Waters reform mandatory, the public consultation promised for next year seems redundant.  It may be that New Zealanders will only get a definitive  say on this major change to provision of drinking water, stormwater and sewerage services at the 2023 general election.

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