“With respect, please, please rethink this bill,” Ian and Barbara Stuart said in a letter to Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta.
The owners of the Cable Bay Farm and holiday park in Nelson are among a stream of rural residents emailing and writing to the Minister to express dismay and puzzlement on why the Water Services Bill makes no exceptions for small suppliers.
As this edition of FedsNews goes to print, the Bill is back in the House for its second reading. Despite extensive arguments from Federated Farmers and many others at the select committee hearings, as many as 75,000 rural and farm supply arrangements look like falling within the scope of the new water regulator Taumata Arowai. They’ll have to register as a supplier, and meet the compliance and standards required of much larger drinking water entities, such as preparation of drinking water safety plans and consumer complaints processes.
Feds had asked for anyone supplying fewer than 50 people to be exempted.
“We are deeply disappointed to find you have not listened to Federated Farmers’ concerns about small farm suppliers who have happily provided water to locals in the spirit of being a good Kiwi neighbour to now find it is a noose around our necks,” the Stuarts said.
Their camp ground’s water supply comes from a protected creek that runs from hill top to the sea through the farm. There is no electricity near the take and off- farm neighbours rely on gravity to get the water to their houses, where it is filtered at point of use.
“The water is lovely, no one has ever been sick, all have individual pipes.
“When we set up our camp we were not allowed to store treated water. Most residents have storage and add rainwater to it, which could re-contaminate it.”
Thus there’s nothing to be gained by earlier treatment; filters at each house are practical, safe and cost-effective.
“One size blanket rules do not work everywhere,” the Stuarts said.
Federated Farmers President Andrew Hoggard said if the Bill was passed unchanged, the government would sign itself up to the enormous task tracking down every single source of drinking water in the land and making them belong to a register if they supply any other household.
“They are likely to drown their officials in the paperwork this decision is going to create.”
In its report, the Health Select Committee gave a commitment to developing scaled workable solutions to water treatment critical for small water suppliers like farms sharing a bore, marae, rural schemes, and other small water schemes. These will include end-point treatment systems for households.
The time allowed for registration with Taumata Arowai was also extended from one to three years, a change specifically sought by Federated Farmers.
But while supporting the intent to develop “acceptable solutions” for small water suppliers and continuing to engage with the new water regulator, Federated Farmers has pointed out these solutions are not yet fully developed and may well create immense uncertainty and anxiety for small suppliers as to what their precise obligations will be.
“We know people are going to choose to opt-out of being a drinking water supplier, rather than face the compliance dramas,” Andrew said.
“And that just means someone else is going to have to figure out how to supply those homes, marae and rural community centres with drinking water.”
More compliance, with no evidence there an issue to be ‘fixed’…
Feds asked concerned farmers to write to Minister Mahuta in the hope that more practical arrangements could be put in place for smaller suppliers via a Supplementary Order Paper to the Water Services Bill.
Within a day or two of our call, we’d been copied in on more than a dozen farmer missives highlighting the folly of the legislation’s current course. Plenty more are likely to have written since.
Robert Hickson, from Waio Station, told the Minister a number of households source water from springs on their farm free of cost.
“This arrangement has been in place for at least 50 years and to date there have been no known health concerns. The introduction of the Water Services Bill without exemption for small suppliers would result in us having to cut supply to these households and transfer this water supply responsibility to the local government,” Robert said.
“This would serve neither the interests of our local community nor local council.”
Wairarapa couple Charlie and Karla Matthews are landholders/caretaker of a property that has been in their family for over 170 years. They said they had always ensured the quality and safety of water supplied to animals and humans residing there.
“We are sick and tired of the last few years of continuous roll out of unnecessary and costly compliance being forced upon us with no evidence or proof that there is an issue that needs to be ‘fixed’. The one-size fits-all model being applied to every aspect of our lives and businesses is nonsensical.”
The Matthews challenged the Minister to come up with any health records of waterborne illness in humans from water supplied on their property to illustrate that external monitoring is in any way necessary.
“We support Federated Farmers in their sensible and logical proposal that small suppliers supplying fewer than 50 endpoint users be exempt.
“We as an industry and country are becoming extremely disillusioned by the way the current government is intent on infiltrating the personal lives and businesses of law-abiding, tax-paying, small business owners of New Zealand instead of focusing on the astronomical issues of poverty, crime and health.”