The Kāpiti Coast District Council is apparently setting a good example in its future-focused approach to supplying drinking water.
An Auditor-General’s report Managing the supply of and demand for drinking water was presented to the House of Representatives this week, following an audit of approaches to supplying drinking water by the Horowhenua, Kāpiti Coast, Manawatu and Palmerston North councils..
Mayor K Gurunathan is extremely pleased with the results, especially given the water management discussions going on across the country.
“The report highlights that the Kāpiti Coast District Council takes a very different approach to supplying drinking water when compared to the other Councils audited,” he says.
“The Council’s strategic focus on the whole system means we’re leading the way on many fronts.
Since introducing water meters in 2015, 75% of ratepayers pay less for water than they would if the Council stayed with the previous one size fits all approach for managing water supply.
“Peak daily water use has decreased by about 25% since introducing water meters, and we’re one of only a handful of Councils who didn’t have to put water restrictions in place over summer,” says Mayor Gurunathan.
“While we acknowledge that every council has its own unique circumstances we believe it’s in the interests of all councils to move to a more sustainable long-term approach to supplying their drinking water,” he says.
The repoted noted that Kāpiti Coast has invested more heavily in information technology for drinking water, and is working on getting better integration between those systems and the financial management and human resources systems to provide a full overview of the resources for managing drinking water.
The Council has made a significant investment in improving its data over the last decade (at least), which has helped it to improve the quality of its decision-making.
The Auditor-Generals says, in our view, this means that Kāpiti Coast District Council is more likely to identify and fix leaks that the other councils would not.
The audit report devoted a section on the Kāpiti Coast District Council's approach because it's so markedly different to that of the other councils. The report says:
The main reason for this is that in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Kāpiti Coast District Council exceeded its assigned water take. In response to abatement notices, it sought to expand its supply. Because the initial application was refused, Kāpiti Coast District Council prepared a comprehensive water strategy. The strategy included a multi-year programme of investigations, research, and intermediary measures to select and implement the preferred long-term solution that would optimise demand and supply. Measures were implemented in phases, and it took about 15 years to complete implementation.
Kāpiti Coast District Council has not needed to apply summer water restrictions since the last phase of measures, which included universal metering, was introduced. It is now settling into a business-as-usual phase for managing drinking water supply. The time it took to respond to the issues shows that councils need to plan for drinking water supply over the long term.
We asked Kāpiti Coast District Council what other factor or incentive would have made it act earlier. Councillors and council officers told us that crisis and regulation are the only sure ways to achieve more comprehensive planning for, and management of, drinking water supply under the current arrangements. Incentives to stay with a traditional supply management approach and to make short-term decisions are strong, and there are political pressures to keep rates and rates increases low.
Infrastructure management by crisis should be avoided. When there is pressure to resolve a problem quickly, there is a risk that councils put in place solutions that address short-term concerns in a way that might not be in consumers’ long-term interests. For example, solutions could be expensive because councils need to act quickly, might build in higher running and renewal costs, or might limit alternatives to respond to future challenges.
In our view, greater use of scenario planning would help councils deal with the uncertainties inherent in planning assumptions and communicate these uncertainties to their communities. For example, it is easier to identify the conditions that lead to population growth than to identify the pace of change. There are similar challenges in planning for the effects of climate change.