Water is a vital force of life. But despite the world being two-thirds filled with water, water supply challenges have been growing in recent times.
Much of this is seen and felt in New Zealand, where the current water supply faces multiple challenges. The government has now suggested certain reforms to tackle these challenges and solve the inconsistencies in the water supply.
How do they propose to do it and what does this mean for the population of New Zealand? Read on to know more.
Challenges with the Current Water Connections
Local councils in New Zealand manage the water supply to its inhabitants at present. Here are the challenges the country's water supply is dealing with.
Inconsistent Water Quality
Disjointed connectivity of water to households gives rise to inconsistency in the water quality. An outbreak of campylobacteriosis in 2016 in and around Havelock North, in which 14000 people were taken ill, caused the authorities to take note of this problem.
The goal to connect all water supplies to town supplies remains a distant dream as separate councils struggle to keep up with the local challenges. At present, about 15 percent of New Zealand inhabitants are not connected to town supplies, raising questions around the quality of water supply to these households.
Water is already an expensive commodity in parts of New Zealand, especially in rural households. An average household pays anywhere between $500 and $2600 for water every year, which is expected to rise to a whopping yearly rate of somewhere between $1900 and $13900 in the next 30 years.
When taking into consideration all the restructuring that needs to be done to offset the effects of climate change, this cost could rise further. Lower-income groups and smaller communities will be subsequently affected by these rising costs of water.
Imagine a country where many of its future generations cannot even pay for a basic necessity such as water. It is crucial to avoid such a grim future by finding a resolution to these increasing costs.
The majority of the country still uses the old infrastructure for water delivery. The outbreak in 2016 was proof that local councils cannot scale up to modern pipes and water plants that can compete with standards in the UK or the US.
Also, it is not just potable water that is affected by this aging infrastructure. Stormwater drainage systems, wastewater recycling, and similar initiatives are also crumbling under the increasing number of broken pipes and plants equipped with old-style machinery.
In the meantime, rising seawater is a constant threat from climatic changes. If the infrastructure is not upgraded, there is a high chance that the existing sewers will erode and eventually get permanently damaged in the wake of seismic disturbances and other natural causes that lead to rising seawater.
What the Reform Suggests
The Government has declared an ambitious plan where it intends to relieve the councils from the responsibility of managing water and wastewater and transfer it over to four big regional organizations instead.
This plan involves an expenditure of over $120 billion over the next 30 years. However, experts believe that the total cost could go very well beyond $185 billion if the country's water network has to meet the standards set by countries like the US and the UK.
An initial package of $700 million has been offered to the councils. This should enable them to work with neighboring councils to build upon the existing water infrastructure before the entire burden is shifted to the regional water organizations.
What Does it Mean for NZ?
So, what do these reforms mean for the people of New Zealand? Well, the impact that this plan would have on citizens and the country's economy seem to be both positive and negative. Let's assess them in brief.
High Investment Costs
Given the long duration of the plan, if it has to be implemented, a spending amount higher than $120 billion may be on the cards. This is because there would be constant changes in climatic conditions over the next 30 years.
The infrastructure that the authorities are aiming to build now may not hold up to the gradual changes in the environment that the country would have to endure over time. Constant innovation and rebuilding of plants and plumbing would require a consistent flow of cash.
Also, the $700-million package denominated for the councils may not be enough for the scale of modernization that the country's water systems have to undergo. Overall, New Zealand is looking at high investment costs over a long period if this goal has to be realized.
More Jobs at the Outset
As the country's water infrastructure goes through a major overhaul, it consequently would result in the creation of a large number of jobs. During the construction phase, there could be more than 8000 new jobs, spread across business services, trades, financial services, and of course, construction itself.
Further, analysts predict that the upgrade of the existing water infrastructure and the maintenance of the modern plants and supply systems could create anywhere between 5000 to 9000 jobs in the next 30 years.
However, there is a catch. In the time beyond 30 years, or whenever the project is completed, the number of jobs is likely to decline. Besides, there would no longer be the manual jobs of supplying water that the country can offer to some of its residents in the current times.
Lowered Water Bills and Higher Standards
With just four independent organizations overseeing the water supply to the entire country, residents can expect that the overall quality of the water will be better monitored. Also, the regions with no connectivity to town water, mainly the Far North, Southland, and Kaipara regions, will be seamlessly connected to the same standards of water as the rest of the country.
However, for this to happen, densely-populated cities such as Auckland, which already have a self-sustaining water supply system, may have to bear some additional costs and interruptions while the northern parts of the country are being connected to the regional water management organizations.
If all goes well, at the end of the project, the reform proposal expects the average household water costs to come down to a maximum of $1600 per year.
What Lies Ahead?
The reform plans are still in the initial stage and the councils have an option to back out. More significantly, Auckland's well-running water supply system may explore withdrawal options as it holds one-third of the country's population.
The councils in the city may not appreciate the heavy investment costs just so that the neighboring regions could have better water connectivity. However, if everyone does come on board, New Zealand may be looking at a complete rebuilding of the entire water, stormwater, and wastewater ecosystem in the next 30 years.
Factors such as more jobs, a significant GDP increase, and most importantly, access to affordable water supply for the whole nation could very well drive this scheme forward.