Our Wellington

News | 22 December 2020

The future of our water

Water. It's one of the most fundamental and critical resources for human survival.  And Kiwis have a special relationship with it.

A crew working to install water pipes.

“Here in Wellington City, we rightly take safe drinking water as a given”, says Wellington City Council’s Chief Infrastructure Officer, Tom Williams, “and we’re going to keep it that way.” 

“We can’t ignore that up to 30 percent of our drinking water is wasted through leaky pipes, both Council pipes and private pipes on people’s properties.

"We also know that our wastewater system is leaky, causing our streams and coast to be polluted more regularly than is acceptable. 

“On top of that, Wellingtonians have the added complexity of earthquakes, which make underground pipes and pumps even more vulnerable and expensive.” 

And that is why a special Mayoral Taskforce was formed in early 2020 to sort out these problems. 

In early March this year Wellington Mayor Andy Foster convened a diverse group of 13 individuals, from mana whenua, business, community and local Council to form a Mayoral Taskforce: Three Waters.

It was established in the wake of infrastructure and environmental problems that came to a head in late 2019 – early 2020. On 16 December 2020 Councillors received the 40-page report at a Council Meeting and that was approved by unanimous decision. 

The Taskforce report concluded that water infrastructure has not received sufficient investment to maintain the levels of performance expected by the public, or to accommodate the impacts of growth and to reduce the impact of the services on the environment.   

Wellingtonians enjoying the waterfront on a summer's day.

Around 50-60 percent of pipeline assets require replacement in the next 30 years. As these assets age they are becoming increasingly prone to failure. These leaks, bursts and breaks are absorbing an increasing amount of available funding, making less available for planned maintenance and renewals and increasing the risk of future problems. 

None of this meets the expectations of mana whenua or the public. 

The Taskforce report has called for a world-class water management system for Wellington. This will require public discussion, investment decisions and trade-offs.   

With the Council’s unanimous decision this month, the report’s recommendations will feed into the Long-Term Plan consultation. 

Immediate works will be underway to understand the condition of our underground assets, and to find out where and when to invest. Council have already allocated extra funding to carry out this work for the 2020-2021 year.  

“We know that healthy drinking water and wastewater waters are critical for a healthy population and ecosystem and it's critical criteria for economic and population growth”, says Tom. 

“People won’t want to live here if they think our water and wastewater systems aren’t excellent."

Water pipes under construction.

Three Waters: Mayoral Taskforce Findings

The report primary findings focussed on governance, sustainability and infrastructure, and community participation: 

Governance: Align with the Government’s proposal to transfer drinking and wastewater assets to a multi-region, publicly owned entity which Council participates in governing. The entity must have borrowing capacity to meet the required infrastructure upgrades. 

Sustainably funded and financed water infrastructure: Water infrastructure is very expensive, and the City needs to look at different and more affordable ways to pay for it. The report outlines how water metering can help drive down water consumption and water leakage. This is a very contentious area of policy where special care must be taken to ensure sufficient, healthy, affordable water for all.  

Develop effective community participation mechanisms: Enable citizens to be able to have meaningful input into the management of the 3 waters, including catchment level governance within a large scale, regional water entity. Exemplars of this already in existence are the Owhiro Catchment Pilot and the Waiwhetu stream project upgrading private drains.  

Members of the Taskforce:

  • Mayor Andy Foster (Chair)

  • Councillor Jenny Condie

  • Councillor Sean Rush

  • Geoff Dangerfield (Chair, Wellington Water Limited)

  • John Milford (CEO, Wellington Chamber of Commerce)

  • David Bassett (Chair, Wellington Water Committee)

  • Hikitia Ropata (Ngāti Toa Rangatira)

  • Kara Puketapu-Dentice (Taranaki Whānui)

  • Eugene Doyle (Community representative)

  • Carl Blanchard (Independent subject matter expert, PWC)

  • Peter Leslie (Independent subject matter expert, PDL Consulting)

  • Martyn Dunne (Independent subject matter expert)

  • Stu Farrant (Community representative)