Wellington Scoop

Bold action and investment needed to deal with ageing water infrastructure

News from Wellington Water
The Wellington Water Committee met yesterday, following the government’s latest announcements on three waters reform. Newly appointed chair Lower Hutt Mayor Campbell Barry said the meeting was positive and established a refreshed, more accessible, way of working.

“What has got us to this point, will not serve us for the future. The Committee must now act boldly and transparently as we face up to the significant water issues in our region,” he said.

“As a start, we will livestream all meetings to make them more accessible to the public so that we can have more engaging conversations with the people we serve across the region.”

“Ultimately, we want to be open and honest with the public about the state of our infrastructure and what is necessary to tackle the challenges we face.”

Mayor Barry reiterated the urgent need for investment in the region’s infrastructure and the importance of councils working together to achieve a common goal.

“Our region is facing a trifecta of water issues to work through,” he said. “We have ageing infrastructure, significant population growth and decades of historic under-investment. The only way we can solve these issues is to do this work collectively.”

Members also discussed the importance of investing specifically in the long-term future of the region’s water infrastructure alongside central government’s three waters reforms.

“Even with the increased level of investment from councils, the challenges of old infrastructure remain and increasing failures and service interruptions will continue to have an impact on people’s daily lives,” said Mayor Barry.

“As the conversation on reform progresses, it’s important that Wellington Water has a strong voice at the table. It’s equally important that we mitigate any risk of work slowing down as can happen during uncertain times.”

“That’s why we’re focusing on long term solutions regardless of what might lie ahead. This means building new assets and increase our capability in water infrastructure management to meet the growing population in our region.

The Water Committee, discussed and reviewed:

A verbal update on the water reform.
Wellington Water’s approach to regulation
Wellington Water’s Service Deliver Strategy
Wellington Water’s water services investment

Wellington Water is owned by Hutt, Porirua, Upper Hutt and Wellington city councils, South Wairarapa District Council and Greater Wellington Regional Council.
A representative from each authority sits on the Wellington Water Committee that provides overall leadership and direction for the company.


  1. bsmith, 20. July 2021, 11:30

    Sounds like they already know which side of the 3 waters fence they are on. Guppy, Barry, Foster are career councilors, who have helped in under funding critical water investment for years. Lot easier to get a pasture in the paper, opening some grand edifice, than a boring old water pipe.

  2. TrevorH, 20. July 2021, 16:51

    I am strongly opposed to the nationalization of our water assets. The fact that they have not been adequately maintained in Wellington despite the generous depreciation we have funded over many years as ratepayers is no excuse for central government to now seize control and impose an even more remote and unaccountable bureaucracy. We have to fight this.

  3. Cynic, 20. July 2021, 17:32

    Trevor H – the three water systems have been pushed into the background by all Councils in NZ since the 1989 reforms. At that point the Government advised that there was no need for qualified professionals to be employed to manage these. Similarly Councils were encouraged to out-source all of the technical advisors and works teams. The result was “out of sight – out of mind” until disasters occurred. Oh heck it is the same political party now demanding reforms by amalgamating the three waters under Crown-controlled management and control. We have seen here and in Auckland the results of the disestablishment of what were previously Council services and how effective that has gone.
    I concur that the current proposal has attractiveness in supposedly reducing Council costs, but only to transfer this to individual households and it does not offer any potential for public inputs as these organisations will hold no accountability.

  4. Kara, 20. July 2021, 22:02

    I support the proposal to bring water resources under a single authority. Various Councils haven’t actually done a good job of looking after this precious resource.

  5. Cynic, 21. July 2021, 9:45

    Kara this proposal applies to water, sewage and stormwater management in order to improve water quality generally.
    From my experience Councils have abrogated their responsibility in these areas since the early 1990’s following Local Government reforms.
    Yes I am sure they were aware of issues but without exception maintenance renewal and upgrading were generally only addressed when required.
    There is little evidence of any strategic thinking / planning / policies being used.
    Some could believe that only legacy projects were necessary.
    But, given what has happened when services were consolidated in parts of the Country, do not expect any improvement.

  6. Keith Flinders, 21. July 2021, 10:25

    For decades, Wellington City had well-maintained water and waste water services thanks to a relatively small and dedicated team in the city works department, overseen by the city engineer’s department. This group made it their mission to know the condition of the services and advise on where money collected for maintenance and depreciation needed to be spent. Then starting around thirty years ago maintenance was largely ignored as “nothing much goes wrong so why spend money on it, when we have several frivolities we can divert the collected funds to.”

    The decision was made to set up an army of chair warmers with fleets of the latest vehicles, in the belief that bigger is better and with modern technology all issues can be addressed from a keyboard. It took about 15 years but as the wheels started falling off Wellington Water’s cart, they had to admit they had an incomplete knowledge of what they were mandated to look after, and hadn’t taken the time to find out.

    If anyone imagines that central government can set up an over-arching monolith to ensure that all water services are properly maintained, are updated before they collapse, and serve adequately the needs of consumers, such people are going to continue to be disillusioned.

    Mandated local control with monies collected being applied only to that purpose is the only sensible option.

  7. D'Esterre, 21. July 2021, 12:21

    Keith Flinders: “Mandated local control with monies collected being applied only to that purpose is the only sensible option.” Exactly. The Three Waters reform is doomed to failure, probably in the short term, certainly in the long term.

  8. Dave B, 21. July 2021, 13:53

    Exactly, Keith Flinders. The best way to look after and maintain a major asset is to have a committed team of people who figuratively ‘take ownership’ of the asset and its successful operation. Such people require investing-in and nurturing by organisations responsible for assets, and it is folly to believe that they can be dispensed with and others re-hired or contracted-in as-and-when, without the quality of the maintenance suffering.

  9. bsmith, 26. July 2021, 7:52

    I wouldn’t trust any Mayor/Council to get this right. A major change like this needs to go to a ratepayer referendum.

  10. Water everywhere, 26. July 2021, 10:05

    The more I read about the three water proposal the less I’m inclined to support it and I hope councils think very carefully before making a decision. The associated advertising campaign borders on childish, we deserve a ‘better’ explanation than better water is better for everyone otherwise it’ll be stink as.

  11. Claire, 26. July 2021, 11:01

    The levels of incompetence and misuse of ratepayers’ money have given us varying quality of water, bursting pipes, and lack of pipe infrastructure for growth. Councils cannot afford the billions needed to fix the problems. Best to give it to a centralised Corp that can borrow mega money.

  12. Georgina Campbell, 26. July 2021, 14:25

    The Wellington region is facing a bill of up to $13.2 billion over the next 30 years to fix its water infrastructure. [via twitter]

  13. Ray Chung, 26. July 2021, 16:07

    There’s a lot of sensible people and comments here and I applaud them! Yes, we need an organisation that’s free from politicians’ influence and especially the WCC and I’m not sure I’d let anyone from central government near this either!