Waikato District Council is holding informal discussions with Watercare Services Ltd and Waikato Tainui on potentially forming a company to improve water and wastewater services for the district.
But Mayor Allan Sanson says talks are only at an early stage with other options to manage water services still “very much on the table”.
The Council already works with Watercare in Pokeno and Tuakau. The Auckland Council-owned Watercare - a CCO - has treated wastewater as well as supplied drinking water to Waikato district ratepayers for many years. Watercare contractors also provide specialist technical expertise to the northern part of the district. Council often struggles to find enough expert staff to keep up with growth and increasing health and environmental standards.
Mayor Allan Sanson said it might make “financial and common sense” for the three organisations to look at leveraging their existing relationships. His Council had worked closely with both organisations for years on water issues, he said.
“We all want the same thing. We all want a healthy Waikato River and healthy waterways but in a way that’s affordable for people in our district. And we want to deliver the best water and wastewater services we can for the best possible price.”
Three-party discussions began when it became clear neither Hamilton City nor Waipa District Councils supported forming a joint asset-owning CCO to manage water as independently recommended. Waipa and Hamilton want a non-asset owning model.
“We respect that each Council will do what it thinks is in the best interests of its own ratepayers and we’ve certainly not closed the door on any option, including the Hamilton/Waipa option,” Sanson said.
“But recent issues at Havelock have highlighted that local government, in general, must do a better job with specialist water and wastewater issues – it’s that simple and my Council is no different. We’ve got some very obvious challenges here so let’s face up to them and consider the best option for our ratepayers going forward.”
Sanson said there could be a range of benefits from the Council forming a separate waters company with potential support from Waikato-Tainui and Watercare.
“If a realistic option does emerge we’ll share it with our community so we can compare it to the other options on the table, including the status quo. And of course Watercare, Auckland Council and Waikato-Tainui would also need to consider whether they want to change the current working arrangements. Discussions at that level have not been held.”
Sanson said no decisions would be made until the public was consulted and that was a way off yet.
“We’re keeping our options open but we’re strongly committed to improving the way we provide water and wastewater services, that’s for sure. In the meantime it’s business as usual.”