- Same supply for 50 years for stock, two households and other farm buildings and now I need a “Water Safety Plan”? What are these people smoking!!
- Family farm six generations – no problems with water.
- Seems to be overly bureaucratic and will have no practical use but will obviously cost the landowner.
- There is not an issue. The government reaction to the Havelock occurrence is out of proportion, not justified and will only add another layer of expensive ineffective bureaucratic red tape to what in most cases are perfectly satisfactory water systems.
- Our district council struggles to provide core services in the rural areas already… if they think they can take over & efficiently run a multitude of individual water systems all set up differently with their own foibles, someone is truly dreaming.
These comments are just a sample of feedback to a survey that Federated Farmers ran in February-March to help guide the Federation’s submission on the Water Services Bill.
The survey was completed by 976 people and while some members made comment there was room for improvement on the quality and oversight of small rural water supply, by far the vast majority considered the proposals unnecessary, over the top and likely to be expensive.
As the Feds’ final submission pointed out, a very real fear of many rural water suppliers is that the changes will substantially transform the current situation where farmers provide excellent quality and reliable drinking water from a sense of duty and fellowship to households, to a heavy and onerous municipal-style compliance regime that, according to the legislation, potentially risks a major fine or jail time if the supplier gets it wrong.
“There is a strong feeling among the many drinking water suppliers we have engaged with, hundreds of them, that the drinking water reforms are not evidence based, the Feds submission said.
“No data has been furnished to evidence a health problem specific to rural schemes, and the refrain is along the lines of “why is this happening?”; particularly from schemes that are intergenerational, goodwill based, and perpetually successful through weather events and all the many challenges presented to rural communities.”
In this sense the Quality Assurance Rules, even at the simplest level, and Acceptable Solutions are thought excessive and extravagant. They may well work from a consulting engineer’s perspective, but neglect the fact that people – busy people, many of them volunteers – will have to implement them and then be subject to onerous ongoing monitoring and treatment obligations.
No more evident were these feelings of puzzlement, unease and even anger than from the survey finding that around a quarter of suppliers who answered our questions said they would discontinue supply to households if new rules compromised their ability to continue to supply livestock or irrigation water or to avoid administrative hassles or liabilities.
Around a third said they would ‘wait and see’.
The vast majority of respondents, both suppliers and consumers, seemed happy with their water supply arrangements. 90% of consumers were satisfied with the quality and taste of water supplied to their households, with only 1% not satisfied. Based on comments of respondents, the vast majority were very resistant to the idea of regulation extending to their situations, either as suppliers or consumers.
There was low understanding of the existing regulatory regime for rural water supplies, with most suppliers not aware of any such regime. Only a very small proportion had water safety plans lodged with the Ministry of Health. Similarly, most suppliers had little or no interactions with councils and almost all would be resistant to takeover of their schemes by councils.
Around half of suppliers (both dual-purpose and household-only) were aware that the regulatory regime was changing. This would likely be higher if the survey were undertaken now.
Most rural water supplies supplied water to only a very small number of houses/buildings, with 93% of dual purpose suppliers and 95% of household-only suppliers serving fewer than 10 houses/buildings.
It was also notable how many suppliers were run by volunteers (94% of dual purpose and 96% of household-only). It was also evident that many schemes are undertaken on the basis of goodwill and informal arrangements. Relatively few invoiced for water consumed.
Around 30% of dual-purpose and 15% of household-only suppliers had end point treatment systems. It was a mixed picture on whether these were provided by suppliers or provided by consumers.
No enthusiasm for Councils taking over
The entire water supply space is in considerable turmoil with the government’s ‘three waters reform’, the move to four new mega water entities, and associated legislation. So perhaps it is little surprise that there were some particularly strong comments to the Feds survey question “If your District Council did seek to assume ownership or management of your rural water supply scheme, would you let them?”
A representative sample of responses:
- We paid for it, we maintain it, we use it. It’s ours, it does what it’s designed to do well. End of story.
- This is a voluntary scheme and as such our fees are very reasonable. If the council took over I can only imagine that the annual charge would increase significantly and be brought into line with other charges they make for water supply.
- It’s a volunteer run scheme. We’d be happy for the district council to assume control and then deal with the DHB, MOH and Regional Council.
- If they did, I’d expect them to come out and fix any problems with leaking pipes, blockages, or slow draw immediately! We do all this work ourselves and we can do it as required.
- Assuming it is well managed there should be an economy of scale, bringing efficiencies and it should be cheaper than individually all the schemes doing it themselves.