Wellington Scoop

Extra work and extra costs – first moves to seek ways of fixing city’s water problems

News from WCC
Today’s meeting with senior representatives from Wellington Water was constructive and focussed on solutions to the problems that have recently beset the city’s water infrastructure, says Wellington mayor Andy Foster. “There was full disclosure of the issues and some free and frank discussion on the way forward.

“Wellington Water tabled a number of proposals to address the issues and many of those seem, at first glance, to have merit. For example, they acknowledged not having a complete understanding of the state of the water network and proposed an enhanced programme of condition assessment.

“Many of the ideas proposed would require additional funding if agreed, which the Council would need to consider carefully. The Council already invests around $180 million per year (averaged over 10 years) on the three waters, and that figure is scheduled to increase in coming years. So our first obligation to ratepayers is to ensure that money’s being efficiently spent, a point that Wellington Water acknowledged.”

Wellington Water also stressed that it was not simply a matter of past underfunding – but that community expectations in terms of preventing pollution and keeping our streams, harbour and coastal waters clean have risen massively in recent decades.

“What was acceptable in, say, the 1950s, 60s and 70s is not acceptable now – the community is much more concerned about the quality of water going into our streams and the harbour. And water conservation is clearly a major concern for us all now.”

Mayor Foster says many of these issues arise out of decisions made decades ago and potentially the plan is very long term as well.

“Wellington Water has undertaken to provide advice for the City Council’s next Annual Plan and 2021/31 Long-term Plan – in terms of recommended spending on infrastructure – including costings on establishing a ‘no spills’ wastewater network.”

Wellington Water also agreed that it can do better in terms of informing the community about faults, leaks and other issues.

“We all acknowledge that Wellington Water is under pressure at the moment, particularly in terms of the works in Wallace Street and Willis Street and dealing with other incidents across the region – not just in Wellington City.

“We’ll also aim to make arrangements with the Regional Council, Regional Public Health, local iwi and other interested parties to improve lines of accountability, responsibility and communication.”

For its part, the Wellington City Council will need to consider how to fund any additional work that is agreed, in a way that is sustainable.


  1. Traveller, 19. February 2020, 18:48

    “…they acknowledged not having a complete understanding of the state of the water network….”
    Says it all, doesn’t it. But without today’s meeting, they’d never have admitted it.

  2. Diane Calvert, 19. February 2020, 19:16

    Robust conversation held today between WgtnCC & WgtnWater. Key matters are more investment required, gaps in historical record keeping, auditing/quality of water connections, future water supplies & communications. More info required & to be supplied. [via twitter]

  3. Dr Jenny Condie, 19. February 2020, 19:24

    Constructive meeting with Wellington Water. Reassuring to see the high level priorities going forward. Still much to be done. As chair of the CCO committee, I invited them to present at our next meeting. Geoff Dangerfield accepted on behalf of the board. [via twitter]

  4. Andy McKay, 19. February 2020, 19:25

    100% Pure New Zealand. “Wellington Water has refused to put up signs at Karori Stream warning of dangerously high levels of fecal contamination, because the same warning could apply to every stream in the city.” [via twitter]

  5. Lindsay Shelton, 19. February 2020, 19:53

    “It’s a huge investment hole, we’re talking here about a multi-billion-dollar problem we have and obviously you can’t fix that everywhere immediately. That’s sort of the inconvenient truth, that it’s actually quite a big problem.” – Regional Council urban water management programme leader Alastair Smaill, quoted in a New Zealand Herald report by Georgina Campbell. The Regional Council, one of the co-owners of Wellington Water, was not invited to today’s meeting.

  6. Nicola Willis, 19. February 2020, 19:56

    It’s time for Wellington Water to front-up and be accountable for the level of pollution failing infrastructure is causing in our local waterways. A health-warning sign at Karori Stream would be a good start.

  7. Ian Apperley, 19. February 2020, 19:58

    A good start would be for all parties involved to be focusing less on PR and more on the truth. Today’s media release (above) is nonsensical. No plan, no answers, no accountability.

  8. michael, 19. February 2020, 20:42

    This throws up more questions than answers. For instance, when the WCC handed over the system to Wellington Water, were they given an overview of the state of the water network to ensure they could plan appropriately? What criteria regarding a ‘no spills’ wastewater network was set by the WCC? What was the auditing and reporting system set by the WCC etc? Furthermore, are the problems a result of Wellington Water not performing to the standards set down, or were the standards set by WCCthe inadequate? Mayor Foster the public would like full disclosure of these and other issues, and some free and frank discussion on the way forward as well.

  9. TrevorH, 19. February 2020, 21:17

    @ Dr Jenny. So glad you had a constructive meeting. But process is no substitute for action and results.

  10. Neil D., 20. February 2020, 8:51

    @TrevorH – Again well said. Too many Councillors see their ‘job’ as meetings, meetings, meetings. But nothing much is usually achieved from ‘meetings’. Getting on, getting your hands dirty (or getting somebody else to get their hands dirty) and fixing the problem is what counts.

  11. Mark, 20. February 2020, 9:06

    Wherever the Council have put in a middle man (Wellington Water) to deliver their core services, they have ensured our money’s NOT being efficiently spent.

  12. Andrew, 20. February 2020, 9:43

    Neil D, you forgot ‘Twitter’, or yelling into the void.

  13. Keith Flinders, 20. February 2020, 12:18

    As Ian Apperley wrote a couple of days back, the issue is one of councillors not appreciating that they are there for governance, not to be micro managers as most seem to think they are. As I see it few have qualifications and the experience compatible with their portfolios. Just think of the chaos that would reign if all MPs were to micro manage Government departments, try as some might now!

    The “rot” set in with the WCC in the 1980s when councillors, thinking they knew better, who stopped hiring those with the qualification to run the city effectively. With Ms Griffin taking over the CEO’s role once named Town Clerk, and totally changing the management structure, it was all downhill from there. Subsequent CEOs have failed to rectify the situation.

    The abolition of the City Engineer’s department was a retrograde step, as he and his staff had a handle on all that needed to be looked after as far as engineering maintenance and replacement aspects were involved. When I raised this a few years ago with the now current mayor, his reply was “we don’t need to employ engineers as we can hire the expertise when required.” That is the crux of the current issues with water, where we have a quango costing up millions and they haven’t taken the time to understand what they are meant to be in control of. They in turn contract work out to others, who then sub contract to smaller firms, so there is no continuity in the maintenance process as we once had and benefited from. The long chain of command allows for finger pointing each way and no real progress being achieved.

    “Maintenance doesn’t cost, it pays” but try telling that to bean counters.