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A $170m deal that has turned sour

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When Wellington Water signed a ten year $170m deal with the French company Veolia to run the region’s four wastewater plants, it said the contract marked the start of “a new and exciting focus on managing wastewater for Wellingtonians.” Two years later, that focus has changed, and Wellington Water now says “the wastewater treatment plants are not being operated to a standard that we would expect.”

What went wrong with the $170m deal?

Wellington Water said yesterday that Veolia has received 10 warnings, infringement and abatement notices in the last 18 months. Most recently: in August, it failed to report a dry weather sludge discharge from the Porirua Wastewater Treatment Plant. But the discharge was identified by locals.

“Veolia did not notify us of this incident – they should have,” said Wellington Water’s chief executive Colin Crampton. “This incident, and the ones before it, highlighted to us that action is needed now”.

Which is not the “new and exciting focus” that he proclaimed two years ago.

When the deal was signed, Veolia said it

“operates approximately 3,000 wastewater treatment plants globally and we look forward to bringing our international expertise in this area to Wellington. Wastewater treatment is where the greatest technological innovation is taking place, when it comes to three waters management.”

But the expertise seems to have failed. Wellington Water told the NZ Herald:

“Having this unreported bypass on top of the other events we’ve had over the last couple of years with this operator has meant we have to draw a line in the sand. We have to review this operating model and work out what we need to do differently because we can’t have this happening.”

“The public expects that wastewater, collected from houses and businesses, to be fully treated before it is put in the ocean. Unfortunately, these notices and incident are an indication that the treatment plants are not being operated to a standard that we would expect, which is why we’re initiating the review now.”

In January, after Veolia discharged ‘undisinfected” sewage into Titahi Bay, Wellington Water said it “sincerely apologises to the Porirua community for our failure to live up to their, and our, expectations in regard to the protection of public health and the environment.” But there didn’t seem to be any apology from Veolia.

And there’s no sign of any apology from Veolia this week. But the DomPost reports that Veolia’s country director says it’s committed to working with Wellington Water and welcomes the opportunity to improve the company’s response. (Was there no such opportunity before?)

“Our priority is to provide high-quality water treatment services on behalf of Wellington Water, and to ensure we protect and preserve the environment.”

No explanation of the 10 incidents that are so concerning to Wellington Water.

There are many levels of control in the Wellington system. Too many perhaps. The region’s six councils own the pipes and the treatment plants. But they have delegated control to Wellington Water. And then Wellington Water passes on the responsibility for the treatment plants to a private organisation – and after two years it admits that the private company (and its $170m ten-year deal) is failing to provide the expected level of service.

Acute health hazards in Titahi Bay

8 comments:

  1. K, 22. October 2021, 9:45

    I don’t understand why this was outsourced in the first place – it’s one of the core responsibilities of Wellington Water. What was the reasoning behind the move? I don’t understand how adding the margins of a for profit company to the operation of this essential infrastructure was somehow supposed to provide a better outcome for the wellington region.

     
  2. another ratepayer, 22. October 2021, 10:43

    Maybe the outsourcing isnt the issue. I think Wellington Water may have an issue with their selection process. Havent they also had issues with their selection of a roading contractor looking after their region wide water reticulation.

     
  3. Steve Dub, 22. October 2021, 15:32

    When the Government announced that they wanted to centralise water infrastructure, Wellingtonians all came out with “keep it local” responses.

    And then it turns out that our water infrastructure (or at least part of it) is controlled by the French?

    How “local” is that?

     
  4. Hel, 22. October 2021, 21:23

    Someone with a better memory than me will likely know, hasn’t Veolia been running Moa Point for decades. [When Wellington Water signed the ten-year deal in 2019, Veolia had been operating Moa Point and the Western wastewater treatment plants since 2004.]

     
  5. Henry Filth, 23. October 2021, 6:10

    Who else could run the services? Presumably Wellington local government no longer has the capacity or capability.

     
  6. Jamie, 23. October 2021, 17:58

    This is the three waters in a bushel – outsource it, run it down and then say doesn’t meet our expectations. Why are we such fools to accept this?

     
  7. Bsmith, 24. October 2021, 13:41

    Think this is a ploy, so Wgtn Water can tear up Violia’s contract, then hand it straight into the three waters kitty.

     
  8. Eugene Doyle, 25. October 2021, 10:54

    This is a vindication of the hard campaigning the Titahi Bay community, led by Your Bay, Your Say, has undertaken. They should definitely be part of the review … and financially supported to continue their outstanding work on behalf of us all.