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Councils to work closely on future of water

NEWS RELEASE

May 31, 2002.

Region’s councils to work closely on future of water industry

Auckland’s local councils should work together to investigate introducing “impervious surface charges” for stormwater as the region’s urban population and rate of development increases, according to the findings of a major water industry review.

Impervious surfaces such as roads, paved car-parking, or roof area, have much higher rates of water run-off than soil or vegetated surfaces. Such surfaces significantly increase the quantity of water flowing into the region’s stormwater systems, heightening the risk of flooding and contaminants being flushed into our natural waterways and harbours.

A system of charges linked to the amount of impervious surface in a development would improve environmental outcomes by modifying the behaviour of developers to consider run-off issues, and providing funding to improve stormwater infrastructure.

The stormwater proposal is one of the key findings and recommendations of the review currently being considered by the region’s councils.

The review also recommends:

- Councils should work co-operatively in operational, policy and planning areas in order to achieve better outcomes - environmental, social and economic - for councils, ratepayers, and the general public;

- Setting up a new body - the Auckland Water Office - to monitor the industry and function as an independent watchdog on industry issues, such as pricing policies and consumer protection. Funded by the councils and established for an initial 12 month trial period, the Auckland Water Office would facilitate closer relationships and co-operation between the industry operators and councils. It would also provide expert information and technical support to bodies such as the Watercare Services Ltd’s Shareholder Representative Group;

- Putting in place a better mechanism to ensure Maori have input on the management of water-industry issues. At present, iwi are involved on a council-by-council basis, and the review recommends that a more efficient region-wide approach be taken.

Once the councils have considered the review findings at meetings and workshops over the next month, they will decide how best to implement the recommendations.

This may include formulating a Heads of Agreement regarding the establishment of the Auckland Water Office, and advancing any other action points the councils wish to proceed with. A further Heads of Agreement may be entered into between councils and Iwi to establish a mutually beneficial framework for Iwi involvement in the industry.

About the review

The councils - Rodney District, North Shore City, Waitakere City, Auckland City, Manukau City and Papakura District - set up the Auckland Region Water, Wastewater and Stormwater Review in late 1999 to examine long-term water industry issues.

The review has been undertaken by a steering group of officers from each council, technical consultants and iwi representatives, along with a political sounding board of councillors from around the region.

In addition to the possible impervious surface charges, review issues included:

- Whether or not to amalgamate existing operators into a single regional council-controlled body handling all aspects of the water industry;

- Whether an independent industry regulator is required;

- How best to improve collaboration between council-owned water and wastewater operators, particularly with regard to planning capital and operational expenditure;

- Establishing a uniform regional policy for user charges;

- How best to ensure iwi involvement in industry issues;

Public consultation on water-industry issues was undertaken last year, after which initial findings were circulated and discussed in council workshops in March and April this year. Councillors, officers, iwi representatives and industry operators then held a regional workshop in April.

During the earlier council workshops it became clear that not all of the councils would support the option of amalgamating existing industry operators, such as Watercare Services and the individual council owned operators, into a single region-wide entity. However, individual councils may investigate amalgamations or other kinds of formal co-operation on a sub-regional basis.

The review’s findings and draft framework for future action arising out of this process are now to be discussed in detail by each council over the next month.

The steering group’s report: Auckland Region Water, Wastewater and Stormwater Review: Findings and Recommendations to Councils (March 2002), can be accessed along with other background information about the water industry review process at the review’s website - www.aucklandwaterreview.co.nz.

ENDS


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