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How Wellington got into this watery mess; Taskforce Waterspout, Inquiries, and Central Government MIA

The worst kept secret in Wellington is that the Council has under-invested in water infrastructure, in fact, pretty much in all infrastructure, particularly over the past decade. This has led to a chaotic situation where the system is failing, most likely because of under-investment while having increasing pressure heaped on it through quakes, climate change, and population growth.

A source wrote to me this week reinforcing what we already know about the situation. Here is that story dear reader.

Back about ten years ago, the WCC used to replace and maintain their water pipes based on their age and value on the balance sheet. Not the best way to choose which pipes to work on, as they discovered, because they’d sometimes dig up perfectly good pipes while others that shouldn’t break, failed.

Well, a Big Brain was employed who suggested to the WCC that there was a far better model that could be used to identify more accurately which parts to replace, which to maintain, and which to leave alone.

The Big Brain created a model that included all kinds of variables, including the type of pipe, history of previous breakages or problems, leak history, and so on. All of this was thrown into an Electronic Big Brain provided by a technology company.

And it worked.

Suddenly, the WCC could target where resources needed to go and rather than digging up perfectly good pipes, and they dug up the ones that needed replacing and fixing.

Smart.

Then it went wrong, as it frequently does.

There was allegedly contention between the then Mayor’s love of vanity projects versus boring spending demands such as infrastructure. Vanity projects needed funding, and the boring infrastructure demands were put aside.

Indeed, from reading the long-term plans of the time, and even more recently, you can see a pattern of shrinking monies going toward infrastructure and deferral of maintenance work along with projects of watery significance.

Big Brain left the WCC, some would say despondent, and then the WCC allegedly terminated the agreement with the company that provided the Electronic Big Brain, leaving the WCC with less money budgeted for infrastructure and, like at the start, trying to guess which things to fix when.

Now, that, dear reader, is why we find ourselves in this position. Multiple sources have now roughly corroborated that story, and a little bird tells me that the WCC has been trying to get back in contact with Big Brain to ask for help. I hope he charges appropriately.

When a Bird Brain overrides a Big Brain because she thinks she knows better, blood, or in this case, water is going to flow. Down the streets, through the sewers, into the harbour, streams, and onto the beaches.

Based on that data, I suspect that an inquiry should take about a month.

Taskforce Waterspout, my name for it, has been established in the last week though there is little detail as to what that means.

Wellington Mayor Andy Foster has today announced the formation of a Mayoral Taskforce to look into Wellington’s water situation.

“Following our meeting with Wellington Water yesterday, and further consideration by Councillors, it has been agreed that we need a dedicated team to look into the factors that have led to our current situation, and develop an action plan for Council consideration,” Mayor Foster says.

The Taskforce will cover issues like (but not limited to):

· the state of Wellington’s water infrastructure

· the adequacy of the renewals and maintenance programme

· requirements, including investment, to deliver a sustainable long term water network

· governance arrangements.

Mayor forming a “transparent” task force, to develop plan to fix Wellington water

What will be very interesting to see is how this interacts with an “inquiry”, the terms of reference, and who the external parties are that will sit on that taskforce. While it is good to see the WCC taking a lead and treating the issue seriously, I wonder how the other Councils are feeling about the entire affair, as we’ve heard nothing from them on the matter.

More detail is available after a tweet from Fleur Fitzsimons laid out what the inquiry would be asked to look at.

Now, I admit being a bit confused here, as the Taskforce and Inquiry are likely to be quite similar in scope Also an inquiry should be independent, and while the Council are governors and hence, meant to be independent, it is hardly likely to be the case.

Not all Councillors were happy with the inquiry approach.

Woolf said he was not available to sign the motion, but would have declined to do so because more information was needed.

“I think we should be working with Wellington Water to help them provide some solutions,” he said. “This isn’t very empowering for them and seems a little bit premature and unhelpful.”

Wellington’s water network had stood up well to the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake, Woolf said.

Young said the motion was a waste of time given Foster announced on Thursday a mayoral taskforce would be set up to address the problems.

The taskforce would investigate what had led to the current situation and develop an action plan for thCouncilil to consider.

Calvert also said the notice of motion was doubling up on the plan announced by Foster on Thursday morning.

“This was just trying to steal the thunder of the mayor’s taskforce and it wasn’t needed.

“We can do things now, we don’t need to wait for a motion to go before the council.”

Wellington Water set to face inquiry after meeting with city council

I tend to agree with Nicola Young and Diane Calvert in as much as it is now confusing as to how the two separate initiatives will work, however, we can only wait and see in that regard.

I understand Simon Woolf’s sentiment, but it is not for Councillors to come up with solutions for the city, they are there to govern, not manage, which that would fall perilously close too.

Further, the Council itself shouldn’t be involved too much in an ultimate solution, especially the design of it. Effectively the city has outsourced the water to a third party (granted of which they own an interest) and that company was notionally established to contain all the expertise that is needed to manage and design the system. Meddling in that process is a recipe for disaster.

Obviously, the Council has much data and information, as well as the money, to help the water company along.

There is clearly a lot of water to flow under the bridge yet (I know), however, we are seeing some positive moves by the Council to take control of what is undoubtedly a crisis for the city.

As a footnote, I notice that central government has been distancing itself from this issue. I’m guessing they don’t want to get bogged down in election year. Frankly, the minister for Local Government has been underwhelming in their tenure and dodging what is clearly a national issue is disappointing.

Councillors should be asking themselves another question. Did they receive all the correct information from officers in relation to this crisis? Especially Councillors who have been around for a while. If they didn’t, if this came as a surprise, then questions need to be asked.

3 replies »

  1. What contribution are Wellington’s MPs making?

    Is there any sign that they’re pushing Wellington’s case (indeed Wellington’s need) for increased infrastructure commitment and contribution from central government?

    Like

  2. good article.
    Sadly they are all complicit.
    their working modality should be.
    1. infrastructure
    2. running the city.
    3. their pet projects.

    i’d like to see you do an article on “the Laterals”

    Like

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