- Just over a year after appointing a water project manager to work with the community and agencies to secure a better water supply, Kapiti District Councillors have chosen a river recharge project to boost water supply in Raumati, Paraparaumu and Waikanae.
- The $23 million project requires fine-tuning, with particular attention on avoiding salination (saltwater intrusion) effects, among other technicalities. Despite this potential risk, the comparatively low cost and significantly better risk profile than other options investigated, ensured that support for recharging the river with bore water was unanimous, though not without reservation. A dam in the Maungakotukutuku Valley is a second choice for the future. A covenant on land around the dam site would have to be removed, with effects on the ecology and the social cost made evident, before this could be viewed as a viable option.
- Kapiti is a series of coastal towns, population near 50,000, that has been debating water issues since (at least) the 1990’s. The current Council was elected largely in response to a Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) proposal to make universal water metering compulsory. Kapiti residents have been vocal, if divided in their views about water supply options. With the 2007 election, it became clear that the community also had strong views on water meters. Councillors Lyndy McIntyre, Peter Daniel, and new Mayor Jenny Rowan were elected to a fair extent, on the promise that water metering would not just be a fait accompli.
So how has this Council made such progress, to the extent that they have identified an affordable option to better secure their water supply, after years of debate? The answer may lie in the volunteer technical advisory group headed by former State Services Commissioner, Don Hunn. It may lie also in the steadfast committment made by Councillors to resource the issue. And it may lie in the recognition and implementation of a carefully drafted communications strategy that has underpinned the quantity and quality of engagement with everyone involved in the decision process.
In addition, this project has had its champions, with the determination to achieve challenging goals. It has had people on board who not only dot i’s and cross t’s, but think systematically and recognise when outside the box thinking is required. I’ve seen Phil Stroud, Water Project Manager, in action, and I consider the results may not have been so timely without him. Not to mention the volunteer technical advisory group and good people from Beca, who evaluated a variety of options (initially 41, narrowed down to 4) and went out into the community to exchange information and gather feedback. Most importantly perhaps, this process was supported by an explicit committment from the public through the long term district plan (LTCCP) to leverage Council to provide the required resources to meet timelines and objectives around securing a better water supply.
It might be worth noting that prior to the latest LTCCP, there was $8 million or so ear-marked for water metering. In spending this, there was no guarantee that the required minimum 20 percent water savings would be made. Instead, a fraction of this amount has been spent locating significant leaks, promoting behaviourial change, and supporting people to make better use of water, with a 17 per cent reduction in water use achieved during the 2010 summer, compared to 2009.
Having followed the Kapiti water story since 2006 (I declare my interest and some bias, as I published my thesis on Kapiti water in 2009), I’ve come to a somewhat surprising conclusion about water meters, given my keen focus on water conservation and demand management. Water meters have their place as a measurement tool, a signal, in the same way you might check your electricity meter occasionally, particularly, when your bills are on the high side. But, in the case of this small community with scarce resources, there were limited funds. What then, would bring the greatest benefit to the community in regard to water? A set of solutions with a long term focus, or a short term fix?
Long term solutions involve changing behaviours and a committment to finding and fixing technical issues. Long term solutions mean engaging not only with residents, but also with the business and industrial users of water, helping them see how they can best contribute, to stop wasteful or polluting behaviours and make a positive difference. A question: if $8 million had been borrowed for installing meters in Kapiti households, what would be the result today? Would we have a better engaged community and be looking at a healthier and still affordable water system for everyone by 2012?
It remains to be seen whether the recharge option will work to secure a better future for Kapiti water, though it must be more likely than not, given the depth of research into this project. There is a sea-change coming, with local body elections in October. Lyndy McIntyre has decided one term is enough, and Councillors Sandra Patton, Anne Molineux and Anne Chapman are also stepping down.
Chris Turver has put himself in the ring for the Mayoralty – I wonder how he might respond to this Council’s water supply decisions?